Review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd + Giveaway

pattern of lies by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #7
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 18, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.

The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.

To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England.

My Review:

The title may be “pattern of lies” but the end result became a design for destruction. While this is a murder story, it is also, and more significantly, a story about the evil that men (and women) do, and man’s (and woman’s) inhumanity to their fellow humans. And that’s what makes this one so chilling. It’s not the original murder, it’s the mob mentality that takes over a small town and very nearly hounds an innocent man to his death.

As we have found out all too often in modern times, the cover-up is often nastier and more costly than the original crime. This particular instance takes that truism to new heights. Or perhaps that should be depths.

Something horrible happened in a small town in Kent. In 1916, the gunpowder mill exploded, killing over 100 men and putting a big dent in explosives production right after the Battle of the Somme. It was a heavy blow for the British Army to lose one of their best producing explosives factories, but it was an even bigger blow for Cranford, the small town that provided the workers for the mill. Not only did most families lose a breadwinner, but the mill’s production was moved elsewhere, and the town never recovered economically.

Kent is near the Channel, so the Army conducted an investigation into the cause of the explosion and the fire that followed it. They determined that there had been no sabotage, by the Germans or anyone else, and that the tragedy was just a terrible accident. At the time, everyone seemed saddened but satisfied.

Bess Crawford visits Cranford in 1918, two years after the tragedy, only to find that someone or something has revived all of the horror and all of the blame-seeking in this village. She visits one of her former patients, Mark Ashton, and his family. The Ashtons owned the mine, and suddenly, out of the blue, someone is conducting a malicious rumor campaign that places the blame for the explosion squarely on Mark’s father Philip’s shoulders. Philip Ashton is arrested for multiple murder while Bess is visiting.

The question is, who started up all the horrible rumors? And why? Who benefits from not just putting Philip Ashton in jail, but also terrorizing his family and even trying to get his poor innocent dog put down? There is a campaign of terror being waged against the Ashton family, and by the point that Bess becomes involved, every single person in Cranford is involved, including the police. Everyone lost someone in that explosion, and everyone has decided to blame the Ashtons for their grief. Whether that blame is justified or not.

Bess, with her dogged determination, follows the trail of heartless evil back and forth across the Channel, from the battlefields of France to the civilian warfare in Cranford. As more and more lies spring up in Cranford, more and more soldiers with even a tangential connection to the original tragedy turn up dead at the hands of their fellow British soldiers.

It is up to Bess, with a little help from her father and her network of former patients in the Army to track down the horrible truth – before it is too late for both Philip Ashton and for Bess.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddEscape Rating A: I loved this book, but I don’t think it’s a good place to start the series. If you love historical mysteries or the World War I period, A Duty to the Dead would be a much better starting point.

But I love Bess Crawford. So often in historical fiction, when there is a female protagonist the author needs to invent a reason for the heroine to be atypically involved in the wider world. With Bess, those reasons are built into the period and her character organically, and it works so well.

Bess is a trained combat nurse during World War I. This provides a reason for her education and attitudes, while at the same time she acknowledges that there are still limits on her behavior and movements. While it seems strange to 21st century readers, Bess really does have to be concerned about the appropriateness of her behavior and appearance at all times, or she may lose her position in the nursing profession. She can be up to her elbows in blood and guts one day, and have to worry about whether the nursing service will think her accommodations unsatisfactory to the reputation of said service the next.

She is also more open-minded than we think of for the period. Again, some of that is her training, back to the blood and guts. Her sometimes cynical view of human behavior is born out of her actual experience in the war. She knows how badly people of all ranks behave because she has to sew up the results on an all too frequent basis. Also, her experience of the world is broader than most women of her class because her father has been a serving officer in the British Army for decades, and her mother “followed the drum” going with him and taking Bess to far-flung postings in the British Empire.

So when Bess sees something wrong, she looks for a way to right that wrong, whether it is a medical emergency or a miscarriage of justice. She doesn’t sweep things under the rug, because that’s where germs fester and grow. She brings things out into the light where they can be identified and if necessary, surgically removed.

The story in Cranford is one that tugs at her because she can see how wrong it is, and how hard it is to fix. Also, from her outsider’s perspective it makes no sense. That there would have been suspicion at the time, yes, that’s both logical and human. But that the suspicion has not just resurfaced but become pervasive two years later? There must be a reason and Bess, as usual, is determined to find it no matter how much danger she throws herself into along the way.

What sticks in the mind in this story is not the motive for the rumor campaign, but the way that everyone in the village jumps onto the bloody bandwagon. We see mob mentality at its worst, and it is both frightening and disgusting. But we know it is all too possible.

As glad as I was to see evil get punished and good triumph, I would have loved to have seen the aftermath. How does the falsely accused recover from all this enmity? One might manage to forgive, but forgetting would be impossible. How does life proceed in this small village where people have willfully torn the social fabric to pieces? It haunts. Good stories do that.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

In the spirit of yesterday’s Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop, I am giving away my paperback ARC of A Pattern of Lies to one lucky U.S. commenter. I adore this series, and I’d like to share the love.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Tales: Short Stories Featuring Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford by Charles Todd

tales by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Now published together for the first time: Charles Todd’s absorbing short stories—”The Kidnapping,” “The Girl on the Beach,” “Cold Comfort,” and “The Maharani’s Pearls”—featuring everyone’s favorite Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge and intrepid battlefield nurse Bess Crawford. These vibrant tales transport readers from the home front in Great Britain where ominous clouds of war will soon lead to the trenches of France, to the bloody front lines where Lieutenant Rutledge must risk his life to save his men. And finally to the exotic, dangerous India of Bess Crawford’s youth. Together they create a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary backgrounds of two of mystery’s most popular characters.

My Review:

This collection of stories makes a great introduction to Charles Todd’s two completely different protagonists – the professional police officer Ian Rutledge, and the amateur detective but professional nurse Bess Crawford.

All of the stories take place in the World War I and immediate post-war period, so if you have an interest in that period, whether courtesy of Downton Abbey or not, these are great people to explore with.

maharanis pearls by charles toddEspecially since two of the stories in this series, the Ian Rutledge story Cold Comfort and the Bess Crawford story The Maharani’s Pearls, serve as prequels to their respective series.

Bess Crawford is a trained nurse who serves all too near the front lines during the war. Bess is in some ways a special case. Her father, often referred to as the Colonel Sahib, is a career officer who served in India, and continues to serve in some super-secret capacity during WWI. Though her connections to her father, Bess is sometimes able to circumvent authority, or at least drag more information out of it than it wants dragged. She also has a more thorough knowledge of how the Army works (and doesn’t) through her years following her father’s many postings.

The story The Maharani’s Pearls is a case in point. This story takes place during Bess’ childhood in India, and could be said to be her first case. It explores the relationships between the British military and the local population, and showcases Bess’ early talent for detection as well as subterfuge. When I picked this collection, I didn’t realize that I had read and reviewed The Maharani’s Pearls last summer.

cold comfort by charles toddCold Comfort, while it is listed as #16.5 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, is also a sort of prequel. The series as a whole takes place in the post-war years, where Inspector Rutledge, after his military service, returns to his pre-war police career after a hard-fought recovery from shell-shock. However, the story in Cold Comfort takes place during the war, when Lieutenant Ian Rutledge is serving in France. He has to use his detection skills to figure out just why two Welsh sappers are so intent on killing one Manchester miner, to the point where they are willing to blow up their own side in the process. This is a case where Rutledge uses his skill and intuition to figure out the very civilian motive for all of the skullduggery that is concealed within the ranks.

The other stories in this book, The Kidnapping and The Girl on the Beach, show their respective detectives in their more usual settings. The Girl on the Beach, the Bess Crawford story, is particularly good at showing the way that Bess often inveigles herself into investigations that should be none of her business. One of the things I particularly liked about this one was the police detective who finds himself working with Bess almost without realizing he is doing it. Bess, of course, does contribute to the solution, but the fun thing for me in this story was that the description and mannerisms of the police detective reminded me very much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Admittedly, Foyle actually served in the Army in WWI, but the detective still felt and acted like him.

In The Kidnapping we see that Inspector Rutledge’s faculties are firmly back on track after his recovery from shell shock, but that his career still needs some healing. He’s stuck on night duty because he has so little seniority, and his seniors are unhappy that he manages to solve a very sensitive case without their help.

Escape Rating B+: These are all great stories in their respective series. The Maharani’s Pearls and Cold Comfort would make excellent introductions to their series for anyone who loves historical mysteries or historical fiction in this period. We are able to see the characters start, and then in the later stories we see how far they have come since those beginnings.

If you’ve never dived into either of these series, this collection is a great place to start. And it certainly whet my appetite for the new Bess Crawford book, A Pattern of Lies, which I’ll be reviewing at the end of the week.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

15 for 15: My Most Anticipated Books for 2015


I took a look at last year’s list, and was surprised and pleased to discover that I read almost everything I was looking forward to, and even better, liked them! (I have the other two books, but just haven’t gotten a round tuit yet. This is what TBR piles are made of.)

It’s also hard not to miss the trend. The books I’m looking forward to are sequels to things I read last year or new pieces of ongoing series. It is difficult to anticipate something if you don’t know that it exists.

And even though these books aren’t being released until sometime in 2015, I already have arcs for a few of them, and have even read a couple. So far, the stuff I’m looking forward to is every bit as good as I’m hoping it will be.

Speaking of hopes, the dragon book is for Cass (Surprise, surprise!) She adored the first book in the series, liked the second one a lot, and has high hopes for the third one. Because, dragons.

So what books can’t you wait to see in 2015? 


Most anticipated in 2015:
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie
Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13) by Laurie R. King
The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi
Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery #3) by Susan Spann
The Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2) by Erika Johansen
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Pirate’s Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson
Ryder: American Treasure (Ryder #2) by Nick Pengelley
Shards of Hope (Psy-Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh
The Talon of the Hawk (Twelve Kingdoms #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Terrans (First Salik War #1) by Jean Johnson
The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

Review: An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

unwilling accomplice by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford, #6
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Home on leave, Bess Crawford is asked to accompany a wounded soldier confined to a wheelchair to Buckingham Palace, where he’s to be decorated by the King. The next morning when Bess goes to collect Wilkins, he has vanished. Both the Army and the nursing service hold Bess negligent for losing the war hero, and there will be an inquiry.

Then comes disturbing word from the Shropshire police, complicating the already difficult situation: Wilkins has been spotted, and he’s killed a man. If Bess is to save her own reputation, she must find Wilkins and uncover the truth. But the elusive soldier has disappeared again and even the Shropshire police have lost him. Suddenly, the moral implications of what has happened—that a patient in her charge has committed murder—become more important to Bess than her own future. She’s going to solve this mysterious puzzle, but righting an injustice and saving her honor may just cost Bess her life.

My Review:

One of the things that makes the Bess Crawford series so interesting is the way that Bess manages to get herself into trouble. Naturally, she has to investigate what went wrong in order to get herself out of trouble.

maharanis pearls by charles toddIt’s clear that Bess has been doing this pretty much all her life, based on the story The Maharani’s Pearls (reviewed here) which has Bess at age 9 investigating an attempted assassination. Well more like making sure that her parents and the indefatigable Simon Brandon pay attention and investigate for her. After all, she’s only 9.

But in An Unwilling Accomplice, Bess is not the instigator of the particular trouble she has to investigate. Someone else puts her into the soup, and it takes all of Bess’ ingenuity and downright pig-headedness to find the answer that gets her out of it.

It was a thundering great honor for a soldier to receive his medal directly from the King. So when a Sergeant Wilkins requests that Bess accompany him to the ceremony, while she’s puzzled, she complies with her orders. Sergeant Wilkins is both a hero and an invalid, and her nursing services might be required. And, she gets to extend her leave a few more days.

But Bess doesn’t remember Wilkins, nor can she figure out why he’d ask specifically for her. In the cold light of morning, it unfortunately looks like Wilkins picked her specifically because she didn’t know him. During the night, he tossed off all his bandages and walked out of his hotel under his own steam.

In other words, a decorated war hero goes AWOL on her watch. Bess is under suspicion as his accomplice, and her nursing career is in extreme jeopardy.

Just like Caesar’s Wife, the Nursing Sisters of Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service must be above reproach. And Bess suddenly isn’t.

As if things couldn’t get worse, while Bess is still under house arrest and waiting for a verdict on her own future, Scotland Yard is presented with evidence that her deserter went north and committed a murder. The mystery gets murkier, but Bess is seen as a bit less culpable–based on witness statements, she wasn’t present at the murder and hasn’t been further involved.

Whatever this is, it is way more than a simple case of dereliction of duty, either Bess’ or Wilkins’.

So what is it? That’s what Bess is determined to uncover. Until she can find Sergeant Wilkins and either turn him in or get him to make a clear statement to the police and the Army, there will always be the shadow of suspicion on her otherwise clean record.

With the assistance of Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, her friend and her father’s attache, Bess sets out to trace the route that Sergeant Wilkins seems to have traveled across country. Along the way she finds deceived nurses, irreproachable eye-witnesses, and a multiplicity of closed-mouth villages protecting too many men who seem to be temporarily on leave from their senses or the Army, or possibly both.

At the end, she has more than enough motives for murder; and too many potential suspects.

Escape Rating B+: The Bess Crawford series does a terrific job of letting readers experience English life in the World War I period. Yes, there is a slight resemblance to Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but only because of the period setting. Bess Crawford is no debutante, she’s an Army nurse and the daughter of a career officer. She works, and she works hard.

As the daughter of a serving officer, she also has had experience living in India. Her perspective is more cosmopolitan than most gently-bred women of her time. Sybil Crawley she isn’t.

But there are tons of interesting commentaries on how much life has changed for young women since the war. Bess is still subject to some of the strictures, especially while she’s on leave, but at the same time she is a professional who expects to perform up to, and even past, her capacity.

This is still a time when young ladies’ reputations were expected to be protected at all costs in order to save them for marriage. The contrasts between Bess’ nursing practice on the field and the behavior required of her at home can sometimes be jarring, but feels real.

The action of this particular story takes place entirely in England, so Bess often feels those differences. And the impetus for the quest that is the heart of the story exists because her reputation must be spotless for her to serve as a nurse; a restriction that didn’t apply to officers or doctors.

Bess sets off on a cross-country journey to find the man who put her under so much suspicion. She needs to have her name cleared, but equally, she needs to find out why he deserted and why he committed murder.

As Bess hunts down her quarry, she is faced with all the changes that have occurred in England. The war is nearly over, but as a battlefield nurse, she hasn’t yet experienced that for sure. There are still plenty of wounded men. But she will have to come home when peace breaks out, and so much has changed.

While it is definitely interesting to follow Bess along, the journey did double-back on itself several times, especially as Bess and Simon found themselves chasing more than one man and following up more than one red herring. It will be part of Bess’ ongoing development to see how she handles peacetime, but this story rambled a bit while Bess did.

Her relationship with Simon Brandon is hard to pin down. They are friends, and they rely on each other. Without Simon’s assistance, Bess’ journey would not have been possible, and would have also been more dangerous.

They are so very comfortable with each other.

The reader can’t help but wonder if their relationship will evolve into something else after the war. They get closer with each adventure!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd

maharanis pearls by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford Mysteries
Length: 96 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Living with her family in India, young Bess Crawford’s curiosity about this exotic country sometimes leads her into trouble.

One day she slips away from the cantonment to visit the famous seer in a nearby village. Before this woman can finish telling her fortune, Bess is summoned back for an afternoon tea with the Maharani, a close friend of her parents’. The seer’s last words are a warning about forthcoming danger that Bess takes as the usual patter. But this visit by the Maharani has ominous overtones that mark it as more than a social call. Her husband has political enemies, and she has come to ask Bess’s father, Major Crawford, for help.

As the Maharani is leaving, Bess notices that there is something amiss with the royal entourage. Major Crawford must set out after them—but will he be in time?

And what will happen to Bess, and the household left behind, when a vicious assassin circles back to take hostages?

Here is an extraordinary glimpse into the childhood of the Bess Crawford we know from her service in the Great War.

My Review:

This story is a very short episode in the life of World War I Nurse Bess Crawford long before she became a nurse or volunteered to serve in the Army’s Nursing Corps.

On the other hand, even as a ten-year-old, it’s still very obvious that Bess has always been very much herself; adventurous, intelligent, headstrong in pursuit of what she believes is the right thing, brave and fairly unflappable.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddDuring the main sequence of the stories that chronicle her wartime career (start with A Duty to the Dead) Bess exhibits the same traits as an adult that show up in this brief story from her childhood.

Bess’ often remembers her childhood in India, both for the relative freedom she enjoyed and for the cosmopolitan outlook that growing up slightly outside the strictures of life back in England. She has more experience of more different types and backgrounds of people than most women her age. She’s also much more independent than usual for the era, because she has that broader experience.

In A Question of Honor (reviewed here) we see some of Bess’ memories of life in the Raj, and also discover the fate of some of the children whose A Question of Honor by Bess Crawfordparents sent them back home while they continued their service. Bess discovers just how much she has to be grateful for, that her parents, a high-ranking officer and his wife, kept her with them.

But in her childhood, Bess was already an intrepid explorer and someone who only obeyed the rules when it suited her. In the case of the Maharani’s pearls, Bess’ desire to push at the boundaries results in her being in the right place at the right time to save a life, and perhaps help maintain the British presence in India on a relatively peaceful basis.

Escape Rating B+: The Maharani’s Pearls is a very short story. While I certainly enjoyed the glimpse of Bess as a child, the story also introduced a few more mysteries about the people around her.

Her father’s willingness to listen to her story and take action on information that some might have claimed was a child’s imagining explained a lot about the way she was raised and how much she feels she needs to take action when things go wrong.

Child Bess made a ton of references to her father’s batman, Simon Brandon, and his mysterious origins. Simon, his service, his career and his place in her family’s life has been extremely mysterious from the very first book. It was to be hoped that this earlier glimpse of him might clear up some of the mysteries. Instead, it just makes his past even murkier.

unwilling accomplice by charles toddStill I can’t wait for the next book in the main series, An Unwilling Accomplice. This entire series does well at both evoking the era and providing a page-turning mystery.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd + Excerpt + Giveaway

hunting shadows by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #16
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: January 21, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A dangerous case with ties leading back to the battlefields of World War I dredges up dark memories for Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge in Hunting Shadows, a gripping and atmospheric historical mystery set in 1920s England, from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd.

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange its unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

My Review:

Hunting Shadows is a fascinating mystery that combines a search for “whodunnit” along with a surprisingly twisty trail leading to “why did they do it”. The struggle in this story is to make sense out of two crimes that seemingly don’t, until they suddenly, and chillingly, do.

This story starts out as a seemingly traditional mystery; we see the crime, but don’t know who the perpetrator is. It looks like the mystery will be the hunt for the killer. But it’s not that simple. He strikes again, and the second victim seems to have no relationship to the first. Except in the mind of whoever shot them both, using the tools and the training of a military sniper.

The combined crimes stump the local constabulary, and Inspector Ian Rutledge is called from Scotland Yard to Cambridgeshire. He arrives and promptly gets lost in both a meteorological and a metaphorical fog.

There are plenty of reasons why someone might want the first victim dead. Captain Hutchinson was a man who did his best to ingratiate himself with the most important people in any room. His problem was that he was just a touch obvious and his charm wore thin on close acquaintance.

It’s even possible to find a motive for the murder of Herbert Smith, the local Tory candidate for Parliament. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone who reasonably, or even unreasonably, wanted them both dead.

Especially not someone with sniper training. That points to a motive left over from the war, and that particular dish of revenge has gone very cold by the time this story takes place in 1920.

Investigation determines that Smith and Hutchinson did not serve together, and they don’t even seem to have known anyone who served with both of them.

But the war and its aftermath are still all too present. Every household lost too many of its young men. Even for those who survived, like Rutledge, the war altered their lives irrevocably. Rutledge manages to successfully investigate murder, sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of the PTSD that he still endures.

In this case, he is under pressure to find the killer quickly. His superiors want a fast result for the murder of a candidate for MP. But when Rutledge finally has a suspect who fits the crimes, he can’t make himself believe that the (relatively) easy solution is the correct one.

His slightly unorthodox methods, combined with intelligence and utterly dogged persistence, finally reach the guilty party.

Escape Rating A-: This series is a marvelous addition to the growing amount of historical fiction and mysteries that cover the World War I and post-war period. For anyone who has fallen in love with this era because of Downton Abbey, the Rutledge series provides a fresh perspective into the post-war life of a much bigger cross-section of people.

Rutledge survived his war, but his shell-shock makes the war an experience that he will carry with him forever. Through him we can see the changes that the war made on the people who served, and through his investigations, the impact on those left behind.

This is a mystery for those who want to see the details of the investigation, but also how the investigator uses his intuition and knowledge to determine the truth. There are no forensic miracles in Rutledge’s 1920, he solves his case with brains and a LOT of legwork.

We follow, and we see everything he sees, both about the case and about life in the Fen country at a time when the old customs were breaking down, but had not yet broken.

Even though Hunting Shadows is the 16th book in this series, it is also a great place to start following Inspector Rutledge’s cases. This is a mystery to savor, and I’m glad there are lots more to read.


The publisher has generously offered 3 hardcover copies of Hunting Shadows in this giveaway! This giveaway is open to the US and Canada. To enter just fill out the Rafflecopter.
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To read an excerpt from the first chapter, check below the fold.

Continue reading “Review: Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd + Excerpt + Giveaway”

Review: A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

A Question of Honor by Bess CrawfordFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, large print paperback, audiobook
Genre: Historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford, #5
Length: 322 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In the latest mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, World War I nurse and amateur sleuth Bess Crawford investigates an old murder that occurred during her childhood in India, a search for the truth that will transform her and leave her pondering a troubling question: How can facts lie?

Bess Crawford enjoyed a wondrous childhood in India, where her father, a colonel in the British Army, was stationed on the Northwest Frontier. But an unforgettable incident darkened that happy time. In 1908, Colonel Crawford’s regiment discovered that it had a murderer in its ranks, an officer who killed five people in India and England yet was never brought to trial. In the eyes of many of these soldiers, men defined by honor and duty, the crime was a stain on the regiment’s reputation and on the good name of Bess’s father, the Colonel Sahib, who had trained the killer.

A decade later, tending to the wounded on the battlefields of France during World War I, Bess learns from a dying Indian sergeant that the supposed murderer, Lieutenant Wade, is alive—and serving at the Front. Bess cannot believe the shocking news. According to reliable reports, Wade’s body had been seen deep in the Khyber Pass, where he had died trying to reach Afghanistan. Soon, though, her mind is racing. How had he escaped from India? What had driven a good man to murder in cold blood?

Wanting answers, she uses her leave to investigate. In the village where the first three killings took place, she discovers that the locals are certain that the British soldier was innocent. Yet the present owner of the house where the crime was committed believes otherwise, and is convinced that Bess’s father helped Wade flee. To settle the matter once and for all, Bess sets out to find Wade and let the courts decide.

But when she stumbles on the horrific truth, something that even the famous writer Rudyard Kipling had kept secret all his life, she is shaken to her very core. The facts will damn Wade even as they reveal a brutal reality, a reality that could have been her own fate.

My Review:

The “honor” that is questioned in this story is the honor of the regiment that Bess Crawford’s father, Colonel Richard Crawford, commanded in India in 1908, even though that is now 10 years in the past and England is fighting the Great War in Europe instead of defending the Raj in India. The events of 1908 still cast a pall over the Crawfords and Simon Brandon, the Colonel’s loyal Regimental Sergeant-Major and right-hand man.

In 1908, Lieutenant Thomas Wade was accused of murdering 3 people in England while on leave, then murdering his own parents after returning to India. He was never convicted because he ran away from the military police before he could be bound over for court martial. His body was never recovered, but was reported found over the Afghan border.

It was a disgrace for the Regiment. It was also bewildering in the extreme. Neither the “Colonel Sahib” nor Sergeant-Major Brandon could remember anything about the man they had trained and trusted that marked him as a murderer. But Wade was convicted by his own actions. And there it ended. The British Army did not believe it worth risking lives going into the “no man’s land” to retrieve the corpse of a presumed killer.

Until 1918, when an Indian soldier found Nurse Bess Crawford at an aid station in France and told her that he’d seen Lieutenant Wade serving in the British Army. Then the Indian soldier died, having raked the ashes of the dead past into life again.

Bess, being Bess (if you haven’t read her previous adventures, start with A Duty to the Dead) can’t let it go. But she doesn’t want to worry her parents with it unless it can be proved to actually be something, so she starts with Brandon, as usual. And she uses her home leaves to start investigating the original crime back home.

What Bess discovers is that absolutely nothing is as she originally thought it was. At the heart of this case is an unspeakable crime, and that there, but for the grace of God, went she. And lastly, that the so-called “correct” thing to do and the honorable thing to do may not be the same thing, after all.

Escape Rating A-: Bess is interesting because she does things rather than sitting around and waiting for things to happen to her; she is particularly compelling to watch because she chose a life of doing things at a time when many women of her class did not so choose; she is a trained nurse at a time when most upper middle class women went to parties and waited to get married.

Although it may seem that her mother is a professional spouse, it becomes obvious over the course of the series that there is a whole lot of profession in that spousing. Mrs. Crawford “followed the drum” and went where her husband was posted. She didn’t sit idly about either, she seems to have kept the English colony running on an even keel wherever they went, and she continues to keep track of the families of all the men who served in the Regiment.

There is a mystery, but this story (and the series) isn’t about the mystery. It’s about the experience. Bess’ perspective as a battlefield nurse in World War I is absolutely fascinating, and the descriptions of conditions in the hospitals both in France and the rehabilitation hospitals back home are intensely detailed. You are there to the point of stomach-churning. War is hell.

It’s ironic that the mystery isn’t about the war, it’s about the peace before the war. Lots of people took advantage of Lieutenant Wade, and no one did a proper investigation. Cui bono? Who benefits? Who benefitted then, and who benefits in 1918?

The answers are a surprise. What makes the story so compelling is that Bess always learns something about herself when she looks into things for someone else. And even when she doesn’t like the answers, she keeps right on looking, no matter what she finds or what trouble she turns up.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd

Format read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook, Large Print
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 256 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: October 30, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

“I was in Paris the day the French Army was mobilized.”

In 1914, while visiting her friend Madeleine, Lady Elspeth Douglas’s life is thrown into chaos when war breaks out and the Germans quickly overrun Belgium, threatening France. Having just agreed to marry Alain, Madeleine’s dashing brother, Lady Elspeth watches him leave to join his unit, and then she sets out for England, only to find herself trapped on the French coast.

Caught amid a sea of stranded travelers, terrified refugees, and wounded men overflowing the port of Calais, the restless Elspeth—daughter of a Highland aristocrat whose distinguished family can trace its roots back to the court of Mary, Queen of Scots—decides to make herself useful, carrying water to weary soldiers near the Front. It is an act of charity that almost gets her killed when enemy shells begin to explode around her.

To her rescue comes Captain Peter Gilchrist, who pulls her away from the battle and leads her to safety. But before they can properly say good-bye, Elspeth and Peter are separated.

Back in London, surrounded by familiar comforts, Elspeth is haunted by the horrors she witnessed in France. She also cannot forget the gallant Peter Gilchrist, even though she has promised herself to Alain.

Transformed by her experience, Elspeth goes to London and enrolls in a nursing course, where she meets a fellow nurse in training, Bess Crawford. It is a daring move, made without the consent of Elspeth’s guardian, her cousin Kenneth, a high-handed man with rigid notions of class and femininity.

Yet Elspeth Douglas is a woman with a mind of her own, which—as she herself says—is a blessing and a curse. She is determined to return to the battlefields of France to do her part . . . and to find the man she has no right to love, no matter how far Cousin Kenneth may go to stop her. But before she can set things right with Alain, he goes missing and then Peter is gravely wounded. In a world full of terror and uncertainty, can the sweetness of love survive or will Elspeth’s troubled heart become another casualty of this terrible war?

A poignant, compelling tale brimming with adventure, danger, and love, The Walnut Tree is an enchanting holiday gift and a wonderful companion to Charles Todd’s acclaimed Bess Crawford series.

If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Downton Abbey finally starts up again in January, take a look at Charles Todd’s World War I Christmas romance, The Walnut Tree.

And if you happen to be a fan of Todd’s Bess Crawford mystery series, you’re in for a real treat. The heroine of The Walnut Tree is one of Bess Crawford’s London flatmates, so there is a glimpse into Bess’ world from a slightly different perspective. There’s even a touch of mystery.

But back to Downton. The heroine in this particular tale is Lady Elspeth Douglas. Like Sybil Crawley, she wants to do more in World War I than lament about the shortages and roll up bandages. Lady Elspeth goes through the rigorous training and becomes a surgical nurse, serving in France, until her guardian discovers where she is and forces her resignation from the service. Elspeth is well into her 20s at this point, but she is under her cousin’s guardianship until age 30 according to her late father’s will.

No one wants her to leave the nursing service. Elspeth is a damn good nurse and they need her. Badly. Desperately. But her cousin has the absolute legal right to do this. Makes you want to scream but this was quite legal. He thought, and many people quite agreed with him at the time, that serving as a nurse would make her unmarriageable. And, after all, that’s what upper-crust women were supposed to do-get married and make upper-crust babies.

Never mind what Elspeth wanted to do.

About the story. Elspeth was always somewhat different. Her late father raised her to be independent. And she is Scottish, not English. It does matter. She begins the war in France, waiting for the birth of that friend’s baby. And being courted by that friend’s brother. A man she had a terrible crush on when she and her friend were in finishing school together.

During the course of Madeleine’s pregnancy, Alain has been courting her quite assiduously, with the expectation that after the birth, he could go to Scotland to ask her cousin for her hand in marriage. All very proper. Elspeth thinks Alain is who she wants, but they never really have a chance to know each other. I’m not talking about sex. That’s not what this is about. They never have the chance to talk about what they really want out of life or what their expectations are for the future. They assume that everything will go on as it has always been.

Then the war intervenes. Alain asks her for her promise, but they are not engaged. Exactly, because he can’t ask her cousin’s permission. She feels bound, yet there is nothing formal.

And the world goes to hell. Germany invades Belgium, and Britain is dragged into the war. Her friend stays in Paris, and begs her to stay with her, when Elspeth should, as a British citizen, leave while she can.

After the baby is born, she finally does leave, and is caught up in Calais by the British troop movements. There are no ships for a civilian to take. She ends up nursing the wounded. Even untrained, she is more help than nothing.

And she finds Captain Peter Gilchrist, a friend of her family from Scotland. He takes her with his company, and makes sure she gets back behind the lines to the coast. The harrowing experience binds them together in a way that her brief relationship with Alain does not. But she gave Alain a promise that she cannot break.

But her experience on the coast of France has changed her forever. Enough so that she defies the expectations of her class and goes through the rigorous training to become a nursing sister. Enough so that she spends the entire war dreaming of one man while fully committed to honoring her promise to another. Praying that both of them make it through the war whole.

Some prayers are not meant to be answered.

Escape Rating A: Charles Todd (actually a pseudonym for the mother and son writing team of Caroline Todd and Charles Todd) do an excellent, as always, job of invoking the time, the place and the sensibilities of life in England in the WWI and post-WWI era.

As much as the restrictions on Lady Elspeth chafe us, our world is not hers, those are the times in which she lived. She had to deal with her world as she found it, not as we would. The Todds let you slip into her skin, and see the world as she did.

We feel Elspeth’s need to do her duty to the promise she made to Alain, and we understand why she feels it. Just as we feel her need to do her part in the war, no matter the personal consequences.

That those consequences are high, and different from what Elspeth initially imagined…well that’s what makes the story so marvelous.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Remembrance Day – Veterans Day 2012

The holiday we celebrate as Veteran’s Day in the U.S. began as Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries. It is celebrated on November 11, or specifically on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in accordance with the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918.

Nearly a century ago.

It was the last war fought with mounted cavalry. And the first war fought with tanks. It’s also the first war that brought the concept of “shell-shock” into common parlance. Today we call it PTSD.

Lord Peter Wimsey, one of the most popular (and beloved) amateur detectives in mystery, suffered from shell-shock. Just think about that for a minute. The condition was so common that Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote the Wimsey stories during the 1920s through the 1940s, thought nothing of making her hero a victim of this debilitating condition. And she does debilitate Wimsey with it on several occasions in the series.

The Wimsey stories are still worth reading. They offer a marvelous perspective on upper-class life in the 1920s through the 1940s, and the entire series has finally been released as ebooks.

But if you are looking for a 21st century fictional perspective on World War I, particularly of the historical mystery persuasion, take a look at Charles Todd’s two series. Charles Todd is the pseudonym for the mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd.

They have two World War I series. The Bess Crawford series, starting with A Duty to the Dead, follows the life and occasional adventures of a combat nurse during the war. Some of the dead bodies that Bess discovers do not die from either natural causes or enemy bullets. But due to Bess’ position as the daughter of a long-serving regular-army colonel, the reader gets a picture of the British Army during the war, and also the Home Front when Bess goes on leave.

Their second, and longer-running series, featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, takes place after the war. But the war is still very much a factor, because Rutledge lives with it every day. He came back from the trenches with shell-shock, and his superiors are always waiting for it to reclaim him. The first book in the series is A Test of Wills.

And for one of the most fascinating perspectives on the First World War, take a look at Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. This is not fiction. This is a book about how history is remembered, and it’s a classic for a reason.

A Study in Sherlock

A Study in Sherlock is a new collection of stories inspired by the Holmes canon. I purchased a copy because it was edited by Laurie R. King (and Leslie S. Klinger). So far, I have not been disappointed by any work touched by Ms. King, and A Study in Sherlock did not break that tradition.

The authors who contributed to this collection are all well-respected mystery writers. I’m familiar with many of them. A few (Margaret Maron, Dana Stabenow and Charles Todd) are favorites. I even met Dana Stabenow when I lived in Anchorage. Alaska is the biggest small town in the world.

As part of their contribution to the anthology, each author told the story of when they were first introduced to Sherlock Holmes. Naturally, I tried to remember when I first met the world’s first “consulting detective”. When I was a child, my mom was a subscriber to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. So, when I started reading, she got the Best Loved Books for Young Readers set for me. “Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes” is in book 4. That’s one mystery solved!

But the stories in this particular volume, like the proverbial mileage, vary. Some are actual Holmes pastiches. Some use the Canon as inspiration for detectival flights of fancy that barely relate to Holmes. And, some I liked, some, not so much.

My favorite Holmesian pastiche has to be S.J. Rozan’s The Men with the Twisted Lips. It is virtually a prequel to Dr. Watson’s own tale of The Man with the Twisted Lip, except this version of the story is told from the point of view of the opium dealers in the notorious Limehouse district, as they maneuver the observation of Mr. Neville St. Clair in his rented quarters over the Lascar’s opium den by Mrs. St. Clair, all so that Mrs. St. Clair will involve the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. This new point of view dovetails perfectly with the narrative we know. Excellently done!

The Adventure of the Concert Pianist by Margaret Maron is also very interesting. It’s a case that Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson solve on their own during the “Great Hiatus” between Reichenbach Falls and The Empty House. In fact, the adventure ends with Mrs. Hudson fainting at the sight of Holmes’ return from the “dead” in 1894.

Of the modern stories, the one that impressed me the most was The Shadow Not Cast by Lionel Chetwynd. Sergeant-Major Robert Jackson uses Holmes’ methods, along with the criteria used by an officer in the field observing an enemy position, in order to find the murderer of a rabbi and a financial reporter. The combination of Holmes’ analytical skills and a trained military observer make for one very astute detective. I’m very disappointed that there are no other stories featuring the Sergeant-Major.

There is a Neil Gaiman story in this collection, titled The Case of Death and Honey. All I can say is that I hope it is true. It would explain why Holmes’ obituary has never appeared in the London Times.

Escape Rating B+: The stories I liked, I really, really liked. The Startling Events in the Electrified City by Thomas Perry, and The Case that Holmes Lost by Charles Todd are two other excellent stories. On the other hand, there were a couple I liked but just couldn’t figure out why they were in this collection, and a few that just didn’t float my boat.

But that’s the lovely thing about collections–finish up a few pages, and there’s another story!