Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Better Than the First in This Series, 10 Oct. 2010
This review is from: An Impartial Witness (Bess Crawford) (Hardcover)
"An Impartial Witness," is second in the new Bess Crawford British mystery series by New York Times best selling author, Charles Todd. Todd is the author of twelve popular Ian Rutledge British mysteries, set in the United Kingdom after World War I, and one stand-alone novel. But Charles Todd, of course, is an American mother-son duo: she resident in Delaware; he--who is actually Charles Todd-- in North Carolina.

Bess Crawford is a battlefield British World War I nurse, whom we met, in A Duty to the Dead: A Bess Crawford Mystery, aboard H.M.S. Britannic as it was being sunk by the Germans. The new series was, of course, immediately compared to Jacqueline Winspear's novels about Maisie Dobbs, intrepid battlefield World War I nurse, and Anne Perry's novels about Hester Latterly, one of the first nurses, who saw action in the Crimean War, with Florence Nightingale, the first non-camp follower nurse. However, I thought the attempt at an exciting opening set-piece didn't work, did not much care for "A Duty," and did not think it measured up to these other series. But "Impartial Witness" is a much better book.

It opens to find Bess tending soldiers in the trenches of France during the earlier days of World War I, before the entry of the United States into the war, when Britain fought Germany substantially alone. Bess, however, is sent back to England in summer 1917, with a convoy of seriously-injured patients. One, a young pilot with disfiguring burns, has held onto a photo of his wife in his long convalescence: Bess has noticed it many times, become familiar with the face. Patients once transferred to a clinic in Hampshire, reconfigured into a great house, Bess has two-day leave in which to go to ground in her London flat and rest up. However, she notices the pilot's wife in the train station, bidding a distraught goodbye to a soldier not her husband. Later, returned to France, Bess finds an old newspaper with a drawing of the pilot's wife on the front page: the pilot's wife has been brutally murdered, on the very day Bess saw her, stabbed twice, and thrown into the Thames River alive, to drown. Scotland Yard are appealing for information from anyone who has seen her. Bess gets leave to report to Scotland Yard, tell them what she knows. And she is, of course, on her own dangerous hunt for the killer.

The hunt will bring her into contact with some seriously dysfunctional families. It will also give "Todd" a chance to show off some excellent research: I found wartime England very well-drawn, as was the French battlefield, and the British military. This book is, in fact, well-written; dialog, narrative and description are nicely-done. It opened fast, and got to the first body gratifyingly fast, though be encouraged, if blood and gore isn't your thing, the violence all takes place offstage. The plot was certainly complex enough. I liked the conclusion emotionally, but wasn't entirely happy with its presentation. "Todd" has tried again for a television-style set piece there, and it appears that such "grand opera" writing really isn't in his/her skill set. But plenty of things are.

I've seen Charles Todd, the son, a few times at the local library's mystery weekends. He's a pleasant, intelligent, handsome and charming young man who speaks well. We've every reason to wish him well in this new series.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Jul 2012 14:48:40 BDT
mo c says:
What a great review..! Thank you Stephanie. Much appreciated as i was in two minds after reading the first book. Now i know the second is better i shall give it a go. Well done.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2012 19:46:37 BDT
Thank you so much ,Maureen, It's so rare that somebody who's liked a review stops to say a kind word,
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