Stranded in Canterbury over a short leave in 1918, Bess runs into an old friend: Mark Ashton, a soldier she nursed in France earlier in the war. As a guest at the Ashtons’ family home, Bess finds herself drawn into the drama surrounding an explosion at a nearby gunpowder mill run by Mark’s father, Philip. The explosion occurred two years before, but in light of supposedly damning new evidence, Philip Ashton is arrested while Bess is staying with the family.
Mark asks Bess to help clear his father’s name by searching for a Sergeant Rollins, one of the only eyewitnesses to the explosion. As Bess heads back to France and crisscrosses the English Channel on subsequent assignments, she searches for Rollins and other key players in the drama, but they prove elusive. Meanwhile, the Ashton family faces social isolation and vandalism – and someone may want to silence both Rollins and Bess.
As I’ve said before, I love Bess as a character – she’s keen-eyed, practical and perspicacious, not to mention always willing to help anyone (friend or foe) who needs her nursing skills. She’s no saint, though – she can be blunt and prickly, which makes her more human. I liked the setting, too – Todd has a gift for bringing out the distinctive characteristics of many different parts of England. (As an Anglophile, I appreciate the series’ varied settings: there is so much more to England than just London.)
I also enjoyed Bess’ return to her nursing work on the front lines in this book, especially after An Unwilling Accomplice focused mostly on a remote cluster of villages in Shropshire. A Pattern of Lies takes place in the autumn of 1918, and everyone Bess meets – fellow nurses, soldiers, family members – is hoping the war is almost over. I particularly relished a glimpse of Sergeant Lassiter, the cheeky Australian who has popped up in previous books.
If you’re looking for a solid historical mystery series, I recommend Bess’ adventures. (I wonder where Todd will take the series after the Armistice is signed.)