Thursday, December 10, 2015
Review: An Impartial Witness
By Charles Todd
William Morrow, August 2011
About the Book
Set in the summer of 1917, Todd’s excellent second mystery featuring British nurse Bess Crawford (after 2009’s A Duty to the Dead) smoothly blends realistic characters with an intricate plot. When Bess accompanies Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a severe burn victim, from the Continent to England, she’s surprised to spot the pilot’s supposedly devoted wife, Marjorie, crying on another man’s shoulder at a train station. After returning to saving lives under German fire in France, Bess is stunned to read in a newspaper that Marjorie has been stabbed to death in London. Soon after, the depressed lieutenant commits suicide by cutting his own throat.
Unable to resist involving herself in the murder investigation, Bess seeks to identify Marjorie’s unknown companion, the possible killer. In addition to supplying a challenging puzzle, Todd (a mother-son writing team) does a superb job of capturing the feel of the battlefield and the emotional toll taken on those waiting back home for a loved one’s return.
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An Impartial Witness is the second book in the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd. I love that the series is set during World War I, in 1917. Bess Crawford is a nurse, and, she’s nursing wounded soldiers both abroad and at home. Bess spends a good amount of time in this novel in France very close to the front.
The book opens with Bess arriving in London on leave for thirty-six hours. She’s just spent time on a convoy with a pilot with severe burns. He keeps holding on because he loves his wife. Her photograph is something he always has close by. Bess would recognize his wife anywhere because she’s seen the photograph so often the past few days. But she didn’t really expect to see his wife at the train station seeing another soldier off. The scene was very emotional—and quite inappropriate if she’s the wife of another man.
The scene haunts Bess. And with good reason, it turns out! For she soon learns that this woman was found murdered that evening. She tells the police what she saw at the train station several hours before the crime and describes the wounded pilot with her. That might have been all . . . except that she can’t stop thinking of the case, of the tragedy of it, and she keeps talking with Scotland Yard about what she learns . . .
A man is arrested. But is he guilty? Bess doesn’t think so. She really, really doesn’t think so. Could she be falling in love with him? Michael Hart isn’t capable of murdering the woman he was supposedly in love with for years, is he? Can Bess find the real murderer?
I love this series. I love the characterization and the historical setting. I love the mystery itself. It’s just a fabulous read.