Review: An Irish Hostage by Charles Todd

Review: An Irish Hostage by Charles ToddAn Irish Hostage (Bess Crawford #12) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, World War I
Series: Bess Crawford #12
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on July 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the uneasy peace following World War I, nurse Bess Crawford runs into trouble and treachery in Ireland—in this twelfth book in the New York Times bestselling mystery series.
The Great War has finally come to an end, but tensions remain high throughout Europe. In Ireland, no one has forgotten the bloody 1916 Easter Rising that fought to end British rule in the country. Bess’s old friend, nurse Eileen Flynn, returns to her isolated Irish village where two factions continue to battle against each other. Eileen’s time with the British army makes her a target for retaliation. Her missing cousin, who was active in the rising and is still being hunted by the British, is her only protection.
Despite concerns about her safety, Bess keeps her promise to her wartime friend and travels to Ireland to be part of Eileen’s wedding party. But on her arrival, Bess discovers that the groom has gone missing. Then a body is fished from the sea. The villagers are hungry to see justice carried out—for wrongdoings new and old—and Eileen’s protection is running out. But clearing her name may mean sacrificing another beloved friend’s neck to the noose instead. Bess must unravel a dark, deceptive plot before someone she loves dies. 

My Review:

“How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?) was a popular World War I song, particularly after the war ended. Just at the point where this 12th book in the Bess Crawford series takes place.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddBecause in June of 1919, Bess Crawford was facing her own version of that question. When we met her in A Duty to the Dead, all the way back in 1916, her war was just beginning, and Bess, a trained nurse in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, was on her way to the forward aid stations to serve her country in her chosen profession, aboard the HMHS Britannic – which nearly sank along with her and her career.

Back on that doomed ship, Bess saved the life – and the injured legs – of one of her fellow nurses, Eileen Flynn. Now that the war is over, Eileen and the soldier she waited for for more than four years are going to be married. At Eileen’s family home in Killeighbeg, on the west coast of Ireland.

Eileen just wants to be married with her family and friends around her, in the place where she grew up and in the church where she was baptized. She wants to set out on her life’s journey by starting in her home.

But Eileen’s soldier took the “King’s Shilling” back in 1914, serving in the Irish Guards. That was before the Easter Rising of 1916 and the brutal British repression of the rebellion. Sentiment has changed quite a bit in Ireland in the following years.

Eileen and her fiancé Michael are both considered traitors by many of the locals for having served in the British Army. Eileen has asked Bess to be her attendant at the wedding and Michael has asked one of his commanding officers, so not only are Eileen and Michael considered traitors but they’ve invited English “spies” to come to Killeighbeg as well.

Although what there is in tiny Killeighbeg to spy on is anyone’s guess.

Emotions and tempers are high – on both sides. When Bess arrives just a few days before the wedding she finds herself in the middle of a powder keg that feels like it’s going to explode at any moment.

The groom is missing and entirely too many of the locals believe that it’s good riddance to bad rubbish – including Eileen’s tyrannical grandmother. Who appears to be the local despot in charge of all things Rebellion – in spite of her own son being a live – and wanted – hero of the Easter Rising.

Bess feels like a hostage in hostile territory, only because she is. But she can’t leave until Eileen’s betrothed is found – one way or another. And that can’t happen until someone figures out who took him and why.

But in the moments in between worrying about her friend’s future, Bess has little to do but consider her own. Because she’s seen her own Paree, she’s had a life where she was independent and responsible for herself, respected for her skills. She can’t quite see herself going back to being a dependent daughter again.

She envies Eileen her possibility of happiness, even as she fears that it may not come to pass. And in the darkness of entirely too many nights of tension and terror, she has to face her own truth no matter how much she wants to turn away.

Escape Rating A-: The story in An Irish Hostage feels close and tight, and that’s probably the way it should be. There are huge issues on the horizon, and in the story, and most of them are too big for Bess to solve. She’s stuck, inside tiny, hostile Killeighbeg, caught in the web of the Flynn household, and trapped entirely too often inside her own head.

I want to say that the house and town read like an attempt at a microcosm of Irish history in that tense period between the Rising and Independence. Some want to continue the bloodshed at all costs, some want to find a peaceful solution, some just want to stir up trouble for its own sake. Some people, like Eileen’s cousin Terrance, want justice for Ireland, meaning independence. Some, like Eileen’s grandmother, want vengeance at any cost. Many refuse to recognize that justice and vengeance are NOT the same thing.

And others, like Eileen and her Michael, just want peace – even if they have to leave their home in order to get any.

(I just had the very wild thought that pretty much all of the above could be applied to the Middle East as well, and that one of the big root causes in both places was the British Empire meddling in places that it arguably had no business meddling. I digress.)

And that leads directly to Bess, who is a symbol of, in some ways, the worst of all possibilities, that now that the Great War is over, the British Army in all of its might is going to come down on Ireland like many, many armed tons of explosive bricks.

While the future of Ireland looms over the entire story, it is much too big a thing for Bess to even think about solving. All she can do is get herself and those she has pledged to help out of the line of fire.

But Bess’ future is a problem that only she can solve. It, too, has been looming on the horizon for the past several books, possibly as far back as A Question of Honor, set in the Summer of 1918, but certainly by A Forgotten Place, set in November 1918 as the Armistice is signed.

Her dilemma feels real – although she has a bit too much time on her hands to mull it over. She knows what she’s expected to do. As a woman, she’s expected to “forget” having been an independent and responsible adult in a war zone for the past four years and go back to being a dependent female until she marries. She also knows that isn’t enough for her but that her choices are few.

At the same time, she is wondering about who she will spend the rest of her life with. Unlike many long-running mystery series, Bess’ love life has never been a feature of the books. She hasn’t fallen in love with anyone. By the end of An Irish Hostage, we know precisely why.

We just don’t know what Bess is going to do about it. And neither does she. Hopefully, that answer is to come in the next book in the series!

Review: A Hanging at Dawn by Charles Todd

Review: A Hanging at Dawn by Charles ToddA Hanging at Dawn by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #11.5
Pages: 176
Published by Witness Impulse on December 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Years before the Great War summoned Bess Crawford to serve as a battlefield nurse, the indomitable heroine spent her childhood in India under the watchful eye of her friend and confidant, the young soldier Simon Brandon. The two formed an inseparable bond on the dangerous Northwest Frontier where her father’s Regiment held the Khyber Pass against all intruders. It was Simon who taught Bess to ride and shoot, escorted her to the bazaars and the Maharani’s Palace, and did his best to keep her out of trouble, after the Crawford family took an interest in the tall, angry boy with a mysterious past.
But the Crawfords have long guarded secrets for Simon and he owes them a debt that runs deeper than Bess could ever know. Told through the eyes of Melinda, Richard, Clarissa, and Bess, A Hanging at Dawn pieces together a mystery at the center of Bess’s family that will irrevocably change the course of her future.

My Review:

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddFor those of us who are long-time fans of the Bess Crawford series (beginning with A Duty to the Dead), this story serves as an “origin story” for one of the series’ favorite characters, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon. Through the course of the series, which details Bess Crawford’s service as a battlefield nurse in World War I as well as her outings as an amateur detective both at the front and back home, Brandon has been a familiar if more frequently talked about than seen character.

Brandon has often been the person to get Bess out of trouble that turns out to be too deep for her. Alternatively, he has just as often been the person getting her into that trouble by helping her to ferret out information that she shouldn’t have in pursuit of her unofficial cases.

But Brandon has also been a bit of an enigma throughout the series. From hints that are dropped within the series, while Brandon is older than Bess, it’s clear that he isn’t quite as much older as his rank and time in uniform would indicate. He’s been a part of Bess’ life as well as the life of her parents and her father’s regiment for much longer than he should have been.

This short story dives a bit into those mysteries. We still don’t know exactly who Simon’s people are by the end, but we do know how and why he managed to get into the Army at 14 and serve in India in the years before the Great War, as well as more than a bit about why he’s so attached to the Crawfords.

While this story does go into as much of Brandon’s background as has ever been shared, the heart of this story is a singular incident in India with dramatic repercussions for Brandon, for the Crawfords, and for everything that comes after.

Because that “hanging at dawn” of the title was very nearly Brandon’s. And for once, but certainly not the last time, he was saved from death by Bess Crawford, even though in this particular case she was over 4,000 miles away.

Escape Rating A-: For readers of the series, this story is fascinating and provides more than a bit of much needed background for the character. And we also get to understand why Brandon has been so reticent about the few details that we have had so far.

And I’ll confess that I wonder why anyone who is not already a fan of the series would be reading this story. Not that it’s not good, because it is, but because it’s not enough. It teases and and it torments, and it feels like it’s written with the assumption that most readers will already be familiar with the characters and find this bit of backstory fascinating – as I certainly did.

One of the things that gets more-or-less nailed down is the origin of the relationship between Brandon and the Crawford family, and it does answer a question that has been in the back of my mind from fairly early on. I’ve always wondered about the age difference between Bess and Brandon, because there’s always been a bit of romantic tension about their relationship. The answer seems to be “under a decade” making them well outside squicky territory for any possible romance after the war ends – not that any such ending has ever been hinted at by the author.

But still, one can hope.

In addition to the illumination about just how Brandon came to be part of the Crawfords, there is also a mystery, the mystery that nearly results in that hanging at dawn. I found myself of two minds about the whole thing.

On the one hand, readers of the series already know Simon Brandon as one of the “good guys”. That means we are predisposed to believe that he is innocent of the crime he’s accused of, making the Prince’s – or at least his representative’s – rush to judgment and execution seem immediately dodgy in the extreme – at best – and villainous at worst.

Very much on that other hand, it’s made very clear that the British Raj had subjugated the traditional ruling class in India and taken away nearly all of their traditional rights. And that, as a consequence, there have to have been entirely too many cases where a British soldier would have been whisked away by British authorities in order to avoid justice that was absolutely due for committing crimes against anyone Indian, including members of those same Princely Houses. Not that members of those Princely Houses didn’t also most likely get away with crimes against those they considered their inferiors back when they held all the power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and that’s one of the ways it inevitably corrupts.

But as this story goes, we’re meant to be on Simon’s side from the very beginning, therefore there must be something dodgy about the accusation or at least the rush to judgement. But it feels impossible not to acknowledge that the Prince could have been trying to prevent a miscarriage of justice, even though he imposes that desire on the wrong party in this particular instance.

And even though, or perhaps especially because, in this particular case it’s the threat of the power of the Raj that brings justice for Simon, it’s also true that the same threat would have worked just as well if he’d been guilty. The only difference is that if he had been guilty the Crawfords would never have raised the threat in the first place.

So, an interesting case, a moral conundrum, and oodles of background information for a beloved character. A lot to pack in a relatively short story – but excellently done. And just enough to make my anticipation for the next Bess Crawford novel, An Irish Hostage, feel all that much keener.

Review: A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd

Review: A Cruel Deception by Charles ToddA Cruel Deception (Bess Crawford, #11) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, World War I
Series: Bess Crawford #11
Pages: 305
Published by William Morrow on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the aftermath of World War I, nurse Bess Crawford attempts to save a troubled former soldier from a mysterious killer.
The Armistice of November 1918 ended the fighting, but the Great War will not be over until a Peace Treaty is drawn up and signed by all parties. Representatives from the Allies are gathering in Paris, and already ominous signs of disagreement have appeared.
Sister Bess Crawford, who has been working with the severely wounded in England in the war’s wake, is asked to carry out a personal mission in Paris for a Matron at the London headquarters of The Queen Alexandra’s.
Bess is facing decisions about her own future, even as she searches for the man she is charged with helping.  When she does locate Lt. Lawrence Minton, she finds a bitter and disturbed officer who has walked away from his duties at the Peace Conference and is well on his way toward an addiction to opiates. When she confronts him with the dangers of using laudanum, he tells her that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he can find oblivion. But what has changed him? What is it that haunts him? He can’t confide in Bess—because the truth is so deeply buried in his mind that he can only relive it in nightmares. The officers who had shared a house with him in Paris profess to know nothing—still, Bess is reluctant to trust them even when they offer her their help. But where to begin on her own?
What is driving this man to a despair so profound it can only end with death? The war? Something that happened in Paris? To prevent a tragedy, she must get at the truth as quickly as possible—which means putting herself between Lieutenant Minton and whatever is destroying him. Or is it whoever?
 

My Review:

This is a story about being stuck in limbo, and that’s fitting for its time and place. Because in Paris, in the spring of 1919, there was nothing but limbo. Not for the residents of Paris, not for the delegates to the Peace Conference, and certainly not for Bess Crawford, one of the many nurses in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service who was wondering whether she would be able to stay in the service once the wounded from the (hopefully) late war were finally settled and cared for back home in England.

And whether, or what, that was what she truly wanted.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddWhen we first met Bess, back in November 1916 in A Duty to the Dead, she was a dedicated battlefield nurse in a war that was already two years old and seemed to have no end in sight. Getting through each day and each night, saving who she could and grieving the many she could not was all that the eye could see.

But in March of 1919, when this story takes place, the Armistice has been in effect for over 5 months, but a peace treaty was nowhere in sight. The Allied Powers are in a state of such disagreement that it sometimes seems as if a shooting war will break out across their negotiating table long before they reach the point where they can present anything like a united front to the Central Powers, meaning Germany and her allies.

It’s into the middle of this muddle, slightly muddled herself, that Bess finds herself back in Paris, and just like her “adventure” in The Shattered Tree, poking her nose into places that entirely too many people think it doesn’t belong.

Especially the man that she has come to Paris to find, Lieutenant Lawrence Minton. Lt. Minton’s mother is someone whose requests Bess is unable to refuse. His mother is the current Matron, or head, of the nursing service that Bess would like to remain part of after the war is finally officially over.

Matron is concerned that her son has been reported absent from his duties as one of many military attaches to the peace conference, and when Bess arrives to investigate, she learns that those fears are more than justified. The lieutenant is not just missing, he seems to be rusticating in the French countryside and doing his level best to remain doped to the eyeballs on laudanum every waking minute.

Bess feels caught between a rock and a hard place. If she reports the man’s current state to anyone, including his mother, officialdom will step in and he will be discharged in disgrace. As the lieutenant is an officer in her father’s old regiment, that disgrace will reflect badly on the regiment and could even reach up to the Colonel Sahib, who may no longer be the regiment’s official leader but is still involved with both the regiment and the war effort.

So Bess decides to investigate the matter herself – as she so often does. She knows that something happened to Minton in Paris that seems to have changed him overnight from a dutiful, conscientious officer who wanted to remain in uniform to a lying, cruel opium addict. She is determined to find out just what is driving the man’s search for oblivion at any cost.

That her search sends her straight into the path of someone determined to drive Minton to that oblivion, and to death beyond it, by the quickest road puts Bess in the sights of a murderer with nothing left to lose.

A place that Bess seems to find herself again and again, but this time without her usual allies and with more than the usual number of enemies.

Escape Rating B: As I said at the top, this is a story about being in limbo. There are just too many things that are very much up in the air, and Bess’ investigation into Minton’s circumstances are just one of the many, many things that are hanging.

The problem for the book is that limbo is a frustrating place to be, but not generally an interesting one. Limbo is angsty without a resolution in sight. While Bess’ investigation does eventually lead to resolution and the hope of closure for Minton, most of the other circumstances are out of her control, even at the story’s end.

And it seems as if Minton’s situation is equally unresolved for about 2/3rds of the story. Bess spends a LOT of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and then searching for answers that seem to be out of reach, either lost in Minton’s confused mind or eluding her through the streets of war-weary Paris.

As is known from history, the formal state of war between the Allies and the Central Powers did not end until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. A treaty which, again as we know now, led directly to the conditions which brought about World War II. But at the point where this story takes place, the Allies are still wrangling. France wants Germany to pay crippling reparations, a condition which they eventually won. The U.S., under President Woodrow Wilson, has his optimistic vision for the League of Nations, which he also eventually won. Neither side got exactly what they hoped for, but hindsight is always 20/20.

However, as this story takes place, the treaty is in the future. What is known is that all the powers, with the possible exception of the U.S., are much too war-torn and war-weary for the hostilities to continue, no matter what it takes to get everyone to the treaty-table.

Bess herself is in limbo, as the nursing service is drawing down rapidly. Many women are resigning in order to marry the men they either waited for or met during the war. Those that survived. England lost a generation of young men in the war, and many women would be unable to marry after the war because there weren’t nearly enough men left TO marry.

Bess can return to her parents house and be their daughter again. Not that she was ever disowned – far from it. She has, however, the option to be the daughter that she would have been if the war hadn’t intervened. But it did. She’s used to being on her own, making not just her own decisions but decisions of life and death for the men under her care. Going back to being anyone’s protected, obedient and dependent child is not a path she wants to take.

At the same time, in spite of the number of proposals that she has received during the war, she has no desire to see if any of those proposals were real. She may have liked or been fond of the men who made them, but she doesn’t love any of them. She’s not sure if there’s anyone she does love enough to marry. Except possibly her father’s regimental sergeant, Simon Brandon, a man who has been part of her life and her family for many years. But Brandon is absent throughout this story, as far as Bess knows off in Scotland courting someone else. Maybe or maybe not.

So Bess is in a personal limbo for this whole story. Admittedly, she doesn’t angst about it a lot, and when she does, it is mostly about her career and future in general, and not about marriage in particular, to Simon or anyone else. Not that Simon has ever offered. But it never read, at least to me, like romantic pining or that the story was in any way revolving around her love life. Bess is trying to figure out what her future will look like at a time when all futures were very much up in the air. As an intelligent, thoughtful person, worrying about the future in these circumstances is the right thing for her to be doing.

But limbo is just not as interesting as action. Or at least forward motion in some form. Something that I hope to see a lot more of whenever Bess returns in her next adventure.

Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd

Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles ToddA Forgotten Place (Bess Crawford, #10) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #10
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Though the Great War has ended, Bess Crawford finds herself caught in deadly circumstances on a remote Welsh headland in this tenth entry from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author.

The fighting has ended, the Armistice signed, but the war has left wounds that are still agonizingly raw. Battlefield Nurse Bess Crawford has been assigned to a clinic for amputees, and the Welsh patients worry her. She does her best to help them, but it’s clear that they have nothing to go home to, in a valley where only the fit can work in the coal pits. When they are released, she fears that peace will do what war couldn’t—take their lives.

Their officer, Captain Williams, writes to describe their despair, and his own at trying to save his men. Bess feels compelled to look into their situation, but the Army and the clinic can do nothing. Requesting leave, she quietly travels to Wales, and that bleak coal mining village, but she is too late.

Captain Williams’ sister tells Bess he has left the valley. Bess is afraid he intends to kill himself. She follows him to an isolated, storm-battered peninsula—a harsh and forgotten place where secrets and death go hand in hand. Deserted by her frightened driver, Bess is stranded among strangers suspicious of outsiders. She quickly discovers these villagers are hiding something, and she’s learned too much to be allowed to leave. What’s more, no one in England knows where she is.

Why is there no Constable out here? And who is the mysterious Ellen? Captain Williams and his brother’s widow are her only allies, and Bess must take care not to put them at risk as she tries to find answers. But there is a murderer here who is driven to kill again and again. And the next person in his sights is Simon Brandon, searching for Bess and unaware of his danger. . . .

My Review:

This tenth story in the Bess Crawford series takes place in December 1918. The war is over, but the peace hasn’t really begun. The fighting officially ended at 11:11 am on November 11, 1918 with the signing of the Armistice. This is the day we now celebrate as Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the U.K and the Commonwealth.

Bess Crawford served as a combat nurse during the war. Her service has not yet ended. While a significant part of a generation died on the battlefields, there were also many who came home missing significant pieces of themselves, and not all of those missing pieces were physical.

The war changed all who were a part of it, including Bess herself. Today we might say that she had post-traumatic stress disorder – along with many of the now ex-soldiers.

With the end of the war, the field hospitals are closing down, and the base hospitals are shrinking by the day. All the able-bodied are sent home – to a country that does not have nearly enough jobs for all of them.

Those who are still in hospital are the ones more severely wounded, still recovering as best as the medical science of the time permitted, from the loss of limbs or disfiguring wounds or both.

That’s where Bess comes in, as she becomes involved with a Welsh regiment that was wounded during the last of the fighting. A regiment formed in the coal counties of Wales, where every able-bodied man works in the mines. But the men under her care are no longer able-bodied, missing at least one limb if not more. They are alive, but have no lives to return to.

In the valleys, the only work is in the mines, and it is work they are no longer physically able to perform. They will be burdens to their families – if those families are willing to take them back. Bess does her best to help them prepare both mentally and physically for what is in front of them, but she is worried, and rightfully so, that any preparation is in vain.

So she takes it into her own hands (as she has so often during the course of the series) to follow up with this group of soldiers that has touched her heart and ignited her fears of what will happen to those irrevocably changed by the war after their war is over.

And finds herself stranded, alone and without allies, isolated in a remote Welsh village and caught between a horrifying secret and escalating evil.

All she can do is try to survive, until help comes. If that help can find her in time.

Escape Rating B: The second half of this story is a taut thriller, but the first half moves slowly, as time seems to do out in the remote Welsh villages on the Gower Peninsula.

Once Bess decides to check up on Captain Williams and his regiment, she finds herself traveling laboriously and ponderously from one tiny and remote place to the next. Once she catches up to him, she has discovered that he is the final survivor of his regiment.

That he and his men had sacrificed themselves for their country – but their country had nothing for them now that the war was over, is heartbreaking. But the trouble that finds Bess is not related to any war service – or at least not exactly.

There is a terrible secret hidden in this remote village. A secret that has caused the villagers to close ranks against any outsiders. There is no access to the place except by an uncertain arrangement for hire cars from not-so-nearby Swansea. There is no post office, no telephone exchange, no constable, no doctor. No one from the outside seems to be permitted. Captain Williams, helping his sister-in-law with her farm, is resented and reviled at every turn. Bess faces intense hostility from the second she arrives.

The atmosphere of this particular story will remind series readers of an earlier story, A Pattern of Lies. There is both that same sense of human nature twisted and corrupted, and the same atmosphere of almost Gothic horror.

Bess’ forced sojourn in this tiny place with its close-mouthed and close-minded inhabitants all hunkered around the protection of their dark secret drags on a bit for the reader, possibly in sympathy with Bess and her enforced vacation from her vocation. She does her best to be of use in the household that has been forced to guest her, but it isn’t easy for her and this part of the story isn’t easy for the reader.

Things speed up, as they often do in this series, when Simon Brandon arrives to spring Bess from the trap she has gotten herself stuck in. But also as often happens in the series, Bess refuses to leave until she has solved all of the riddles – even the ones that no one wants solved.

This series has followed the progress of the war, through Bess’ perspective as a combat nurse. Part of what we see in this particular story has a great deal to do with the way that the veterans of the trenches were treated after the war ended – which was mostly abominable. I also find myself wondering whether some of Bess’ concern about the fate of this regiment now that the war was over would have reflected her own unconscious concerns about what happens to her after her war is over – as it nearly is.

As much as I don’t want this series to end, I can’t help but wonder what Bess’ post-war life will be. I hope that we get to find out.

Review: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd

Review: A Casualty of War by Charles ToddA Casualty of War (Bess Crawford #9) by Charles Todd
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Bess Crawford #9
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd comes a haunting tale that explores the impact of World War I on all who witnessed it—officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses like Bess Crawford.

Though the Great War is nearing its end, the fighting rages on. While waiting for transport back to her post, Bess Crawford meets Captain Alan Travis from the island of Barbados. Later, when he’s brought into her forward aid station disoriented from a head wound, Bess is alarmed that he believes his distant English cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. Then the Captain is brought back to the aid station with a more severe wound, once more angrily denouncing the Lieutenant as a killer. But when it appears that James Travis couldn’t have shot him, the Captain’s sanity is questioned. Still, Bess wonders how such an experienced officer could be so wrong.

On leave in England, Bess finds the Captain strapped to his bed in a clinic for brain injuries. Horrified by his condition, Bess and Sergeant Major Simon Brandon travel to James Travis’s home in Suffolk, to learn more about the baffling relationship between these two cousins.

Her search will lead this smart, capable, and compassionate young woman into unexpected danger, and bring her face to face with the visible and invisible wounds of war that not even the much-longed for peace can heal.

My Review:

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And that’s how it seems for much of A Casualty of War, as every time that Bess Crawford attempts to make things better for Captain Alan Travis, she seems to end up digging the poor man an even bigger hole. Bess being Bess, she feels more than a bit guilty about it, and a whole lot responsible.

And it’s that sense of responsibility that gets her in deep trouble. As it usually does.

Bess’ war is ending. Not with a bang, but seemingly with a whimper, as the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 is noted by the chiming of a surgeon’s watch and nothing more at the forward aid station where Bess is currently stationed.

The guns may have finally been silenced, but there are still plenty of casualties pouring into the aid station, including Captain Travis. Bess met Travis once before, as the both spent a brief respite at a canteen in between trips back to the front. She found him pleasant, affable, intelligent and eager to return home to his family estate in Barbados.

Now he’s a patient, claiming that he was shot by someone on their own side. Not merely someone unknown, but his cousin James. His late cousin James. Very late. A year late. Whether James went up or down after his death in combat, he hasn’t been shooting anyone recently. On either side. For more than a year.

And that’s where the story kicks into gear and moves back to England. All the nurses who served in forward positions get sent home for two weeks’ leave, including Bess. She still has a duty to perform, but where that duty can best be provided is something that she’ll learn after a couple of weeks to rest and regroup. Or at least that’s what supposed to happen.

Instead, Bess takes on Captain Travis’ continuing case. Not his medical case, not exactly. Rather, the mess that she feels she helped to land him in. Bess feels as if she was the one to suggest that his supposed assailant, the one who Travis said resembled his great-uncle, might be his cousin James. So when it turns out that James has been dead for over a year, Alan Travis gets classified as a head-case and sent to increasingly worse care.

Shell shock was considered a moral failing, not a disease.

But Bess remembers the man she met in that canteen before he was wounded. She thinks he’s telling a version of the truth. And that he’s definitely not crazy. Just because it couldn’t have been James does not mean that there was not a very real assailant, one who resembled his cousin, in a British uniform, shooting at him. Not once but twice. As Bess treated both his injuries, she knows for certain that the shots were real. The only question is who fired them.

Bess finds herself involved in not just a giant mess, but also a small town mystery. It’s not just that something is wrong with the treatment of Captain Alan Travis’ case, but it turns out that something is also very wrong with the administration of his cousin Lieutenant James Travis’ will. And that those two messes are somehow one and the same.

It will be up to Bess, with the help of her friend (and her father’s right-hand man) Sergeant Major Simon Brandon, to figure out who did what to whom before it’s too late. Not just for Captain Travis, but also for Bess herself.

Escape Rating B+: After the Magpie Murders a couple of weeks ago, I have been itching to sink my teeth into a good historical mystery. I pulled A Casualty of War out of the TBR stack a couple of weeks ahead of publication just to scratch that itch. And I’m glad I did.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddI have loved this series from its very beginning in A Duty to the Dead. And if you like historical mystery or are a fan of Maisie Dobbs in particular, that’s where I recommend that new readers begin Bess Crawford’s journey. While Bess finds herself in the middle of a case during every book, the series is also the story of Bess’ war as a combat nurse. Her journey begins in A Duty to the Dead, while in A Casualty of War it is obvious that her war is coming to an end. Which makes this book not the best place to start.

The war itself is winding down in this book. It actually has wound down, but that’s something we know from history and not something that Bess was 100% certain of at the time. What happened on November 11, 1918 was an armistice, which is not a peace treaty. While the guns were silent, it was still possible that they would roar again. Which of course they did, but not for another 20 years.

So part of the underlying theme to A Casualty of War is that Bess’ war, and her war service, are coming to an end. Bess, like many combat veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific, will be with her for the rest of her life. And unlike women of previous generations, Bess is used to serving, not just to being useful, but to having a profession and the professional respect and recognition to go with it. Adjusting to peacetime is going to be difficult.

It’s not surprising that Bess involves herself in a mystery during her leave. She doesn’t know what to do with herself if she’s not taking care of someone else.

One of the things that made this particular case frustrating, at least for this reader, is that it was obvious fairly early on that whatever was going on in the village of Sinclair and whatever was going on with Captain Travis were connected, and that the issue revolved around his cousin James Travis’ estate. While whodunnit was not remotely clear, if only because we hadn’t met the perpetrator at that point, the why of things felt obvious.

But one of the fascinating things about the case was the way that Simon Brandon and Bess worked together. Their relationship has always been interesting. Simon is a few years older than Bess, probably ten but not more than fifteen. He’s been a part of her life from her very earliest memories as he joined her father’s regiment in India when she was a child, and when he had to lie about his age to enlist. While he seems to act as an older brother, he certainly isn’t. He is certainly her protector, but his protection never encroaches on Bess’ agency or autonomy, not even when he fairly obviously wishes that he could. Nearly every man who asks Bess to marry him, and there have been several, wonders if Brandon is the reason that she refuses. And so does this reader. He is the one person in Bess’ life who understands and accepts her as she is, and not as he expects a woman to be in that time and place.

So the mystery in A Casualty of War had its anticlimactic moments, and also resembled bits of A Pattern of Lies. But the questions that it asks about not just Bess’ future, but the future of all who served in that war that did not end all wars and must now lay down their guns and their scalpels, remains an open one.

I can’t wait to see where Bess finds herself, and how she finds herself, next.

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + Giveaway

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + GiveawayThe Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford, #8) by Charles Todd
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Bess Crawford #8
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

World War I battlefield nurse Bess Crawford goes to dangerous lengths to investigate a wounded soldier’s background—and uncover his true loyalties—in this thrilling and atmospheric entry in the bestselling “vivid period mystery series” (New York Times Book Review).
At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn't British--he's French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.
When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he were a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines . . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?
When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.

My Review:

The red herrings are much tastier, and much more substantial, than any of the meals described in this tale of Paris nearing the end of World War I. Rationing seems to have made all the food unpalatable, even if it is still served with as much French flair as ever.

Although the meals are often described with unloving detail, they are far from the point of this story.

Bess usually finds herself investigating murder in the midst of warfare – a time and place where it can be difficult to distinguish between one and the other. But this does not start out as a murder investigation, and it takes some surprising, and frequently twisted turns to get from the one to the other.

It’s the early fall of 1918, and it is beginning to look like the end of the war is at hand. Unfortunately, one of the ways that the end is being signified is for all of the forces, Allied and Central Powers alike, is to shoot off as much of their remaining ordinance as fast as possible. This war seems to be going out in a long and protracted series of very big bangs.

As a nursing Sister, Bess and her colleagues are busier than ever. Exhaustion dogs their every step. So when Bess spots a soldier who might be out of place, everyone above her in the chain of command is frankly just too damn tired to do anything about it. Until Bess unexpectedly finds herself with several days of medical leave in Paris.

That out-of-place soldier is a wounded Lieutenant in the remains of a French uniform that seems to have had all of its identification removed. While it is not completely unknown for a lost Allied soldier to find himself behind a different ally’s lines, there is one other notable thing about the man who calls himself Lieutenant Philippe Moreau. While unconscious, he speaks fluent and unaccented German. Is Moreau a German spy, or is he merely from the contested Alsace-Lorraine region, where residents were forced to use German since the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870?

When Moreau disappears into seemingly thin air, Bess’ instincts are aroused. Whatever Moreau is, he seems to be taking great pains to hide himself from his commanders.

Bess, wounded in a sniper attack, is sent to Paris to recuperate. She’s not wounded enough for a ticket back home, but the wound in her side becomes infected. She needs surgery and rest for healing. She’ll get neither in a forward aid station.

Bess, as usual, finds herself in the middle of multiple unfolding dramas while she is supposed to be resting in Paris. It is lucky for Bess that the mantra of “a change is as good as a rest” proves true, because rest seems to be the one thing she doesn’t get.

Under orders from her father, the Colonel Sahib, Bess has multiple officers, whether convalescent or not, instructed to keep her safe and out of trouble. Instead, Bess co-opts one after another in her search for the truth about Philippe Moreau. Only to find that nothing she has heard is true, and that there is murder at the heart of it all.

Escape Rating B+: I always enjoy a visit with Bess and her world. World War I is an endlessly fascinating period for historical fiction and historical mysteries. Bess’ perspective on her world is different for her time and place without being anachronistic. Being a nurse gave Bess much more agency and a considerably more active role in her world than she would normally have had. At the same time, she faces just enough restrictions because of her gender and class to remind us that her world was still very different from ours.

Unlike many of her previous books, in this story Bess finds herself somewhat at sea. She is a patient in the convalescent home rather than staff, and people look in on her, and attempt to look after her, much more than is usual (or comfortable) for her. Nurses clearly don’t make any better patients than doctors do.

At the same time, she is cut off from most of her usual resources. She is in France, and although she does speak the language tolerably well, she does not speak like a native and can’t hide in plain sight the way she does in England. Likewise, the powerful forces that she is able to bring to bear in England or even in her British Army nursing station are not available to her here. Here mother’s network of social contacts, and her father’s tremendous pull within the British Army are of no help to her on French soil.

She has no one she can trust the way that she does Simon Brandon, her father’s aide-de-camp and her own friend. Bess trusts Simon both in the sense that he will not betray her confidences and also in the sense that he knows her well enough not to stand in her way, and most importantly not to treat her like a delicate flower in need of his solicitous protection. Whatever Simon is or will be to Bess (and I do wonder) he knows her, likes her and respects her just as she is. A rare commodity for a woman who often steps out of what is defined as her sphere.

Bess begins by looking for a man who may be a spy, or possibly a deserter. She uncovers, as she so often does, a hidden cesspool that leads to an old murder. But as Bess is so often completely at sea during this case, the readers are a bit as well. The less she understands, and the more difficult a time she has putting things together, so do we.

But as her war draws towards its close, I can’t help but wonder what comes next for Bess. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, I can’t wait to read what happens next!

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