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4.0 out of 5 stars She Seems to Find Trouble Wherever She Goes, 26 Aug. 2011
This review is from: A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford Mysteries) (Hardcover)
"A Bitter Truth" is third in the new Bess Crawford series of British historical mysteries penned by the American-based mother/son team that calls itself Charles Todd -- the son's actual name, I believe. Like their other --previous series - featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, it is set in the World War I United Kingdom, principally England.

Battlefield nurse Bess Crawford returns from the French front to spend Christmas with her family. But she finds a bruised and shivering gentlewoman huddling in the doorway of the building that houses the London flat Bess shares with several other nurses. It's a cold and windy wintry night, and Bess has a rather well-developed sense of duty, which she blames on being an Army brat, so she takes the woman, whose name she eventually discovers is Lydia, in. She will have reason to relearn the twist on that old adage, "no good deed goes unpunished."

Lydia eventually reveals that it was her officer husband Roger Ellis who beat her in an escalating quarrel; yet Lydia wants to go home, to the manor house Vixen Hill, in what she describes as the winter-dreary moors of Ashdown Forest, in Sussex. Bess is expected by her family in Somerset, but she realizes Lydia has had a concussion that is as yet untreated, so she agrees to accompany the young woman to Sussex, on the agreement that it will be for just a few days.

Of course, Bess, who seems to find trouble wherever she goes, finds trouble at Vixen Hill. The house is in mourning, deeply distressed by the death of the elder son Alan, of his war wounds. But its residents are also tense, on edge, and soon a troubled, wounded house guest is murdered. Things get even worse from there, or it wouldn't be a mystery.

A BITTER TRUTH, as An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Bess Crawford Mysteries), which I have also read and reviewed, is much better than the first book in this series, A Duty to the Dead, which I have also read and reviewed in these pages.

"Todd" does extremely well at giving us the atmosphere of wartime England, and the social uproar caused by the war. The author(s) are excellent on England's landscape, wintry weather, cities and towns, residents and police, soldiers home on leave. Dialog and narrative are fine; the plot is complex in a satisfactory way. In fact, the plot is pulled together, organized excellently, in line with the rules that govern this kind of writing. And I did not see the villain coming; that might have been foreshadowed a little more. The warfront scenes are adequately done, but there is no question but that "Todd" cannot, as in the first two books of the series, render them with the intensity a reader might expect from the best wartime novelists. Furthermore, it seems a little odd, considering the formality that still governed the country then, that Bess should stay so long in the home of a family not her own, and should interact with them in the way that she does. Finally, frankly, I found the Ellis family a bit tedious. And claustrophobic.

"Todd" is the author of thirteen Rutledge mysteries and a stand-alone, in addition to this series. Mother lives in Delaware; son, in North Carolina. I've seen him several times at mystery weekends sponsored by the local library; he seems an intelligent, polite, and charming man. BITTER TRUTH is a well-done historical mystery that many readers might enjoy.
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