Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Impartial Witness

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd
Sept 2010
William Morrow

This is the second Bess Crawford novel in the series that is written by the American mother/son team Charles Todd. As in the first, the action is set primarily in World War I London. Bess has a chance encounter that gives her information that is crucial in a murder investigation and through her nursing duties with an officer wounded at the front she becomes engaged in the case. I won’t recount plot details but the mystery is adequate with a number of twists and turns (perhaps a tad too many coincidences) until the identity of the murderer is discovered.

The author’s ability to create the scene of London in 1916 is good with a number of scenes that create this backdrop – automobiles while present are not reliable, war wounded are ubiquitous, and train travel is the norm. In the first Bess Crawford novel (Duty to the Dead) the main character is introduced as a strong, independent nurse who is self sufficient in her life. In this novel Bess is continually rescued by her father’s former aide-de-camp, Simon B., at every sign of danger. I was left scratching my head at this – is this man in the pay of her father? Is her in love with her? The relationship did not work for me and seemed to weaken the Bess Crawford character. I’d expect the author to clarify this in future stories.

So, in summary this is a satisfactory historical mystery with decent characterizations, good plotting and authentic sense of place but doesn’t really deliver on the promise of the far better Duty of the Dead.

I read a copy of this book borrowed from the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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