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Posts Tagged ‘Bess Crawford’

a pattern of lies cover charles toddEarlier this summer, thanks to TLC Book Tours, I had the pleasure of catching up on the fictional adventures of World War I nurse and amateur sleuth Bess Crawford.

I reviewed An Unwilling Accomplice, the sixth book featuring Bess, in July, and today it’s my turn to review book #7, A Pattern of Lies.

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.)

This post is part of the TLC Book Tour for A Pattern of Lies. I received a free advance copy of this book for review; all opinions are, of course, my own.

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An-Unwilling-Accomplice-cover-199x300Since I discovered the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd a few years ago, I’ve enjoyed following Bess’s adventures as a nurse and amateur detective during World War I. Bess is a young Englishwoman of good family (her father, known as the Colonel Sahib, is a respected career military officer). She trains as a nurse when war breaks out in Europe, and the books follow her travels around France and England, caring for wounded men and investigating murders.

In the series’ sixth book, An Unwilling Accomplice, Bess is asked to escort a wounded soldier to a ceremony at the Palace, where he will receive a medal for gallantry. She’s surprised the soldier asked for her by name when she doesn’t remember him, but the ceremony goes off without incident. The next morning, however, Sergeant Wilkins has disappeared.

To her dismay, Bess is accused of negligence, but the mystery deepens when the sergeant is accused of murder. To clear her own name, Bess embarks on a journey to find him, driving around a lonely part of England with her longtime friend Simon Brandon.

I love a good mystery, particularly one with multiple threads, and this plot – which includes murder, escape, more than one case of mistaken identity, several wounded soldiers and a mysteriously competent village doctor – definitely delivered. The setting – a trio of isolated villages near Shrewsbury, England – was new to me, though I’ve read hundreds of books set in the UK. (I admit I wish there had been a map, to keep up with Bess’ and Simon’s endless driving.)

The plot twists kept coming, though I did guess at a couple of them before the end. Bess is, as ever, thoughtful and stubborn, and endlessly willing to use her training to help people, even those suspected of wrongdoing. I love Simon, who is enigmatic but kind and honorable; he’s often a minor character, but he plays a major role in this book. (I’m hoping for a little romance between him and Bess one day.)

As a fan of the series, I was glad to see Bess again, and I also enjoyed the appearances by other familiar characters: Bess’ parents, her London landlady Mrs. Hennessy, her flatmate Diana, and especially Simon. The book’s resolution involved a slice of World War I history that I didn’t know about, and most of the plot threads were satisfyingly tied up. If you’re looking for an engaging historical mystery, I recommend this one (and Bess’ previous adventures).

This post is part of the TLC Book Tour for An Unwilling Accomplice. I received a free copy of this book for review; all opinions are, of course, my own.

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an unmarked grave charles toddThanks (again) to Book Club Girl’s recommendation, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Bess Crawford mystery series by mother-and-son team Charles and Caroline Todd (writing as Charles Todd). I’m pleased to be part of the TLC Book Tour for the latest in the series, An Unmarked Grave.

These books bear a few resemblances to the Maisie Dobbs series, which I also love: they share a World War I-era setting, a main character who is both battlefield nurse and sleuth, and a rich blend of history and mystery. However, Maisie’s investigative career begins in 1920s London, with her World War I experiences in flashbacks, while Bess encounters mysteries during the war, usually by accident – and sometimes even during her work as a nurse on the front lines.

An Unmarked Grave, the fourth Bess novel, is set in 1918, as the Spanish flu epidemic sweeps through the trenches. As Bess struggles to care for both the wounded and the sick, she learns of a murdered man’s body concealed among the victims waiting for burial. But before she can report the incident, she gets the flu, and by the time she recovers, the body is gone and the man who informed her is also dead.

Bess is stubborn, with a strong sense of justice – so despite her own illness, she refuses to let the incident go. She returns to England, working in a convalescent clinic while using her father’s military connections and her own contacts to glean information about the two victims and their killer. Before long, she realizes the killer is still on the loose – and that she is his next target.

While Bess pokes her nose into family secrets in every book, this was the first time I felt she was in real danger of being murdered. She is sometimes brave to the point of foolishness (walking the dark, narrow streets of occupied French cities alone, at night, is never a good idea), but I do admire her spunk. And while her vast network of connections sometimes makes the plot twists seem too convenient, I’m sure the British military was a small world back then.

I’m looking forward to the next Bess novel (whenever it comes out). If you’ve read any of Bess’ stories, what did you think of them?

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Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
I’d heard amazing things about this book. And I wasn’t disappointed. Meticulously researched, grippingly written. And Hillenbrand had a compelling subject to start with. The life of Louie Zamperini – Olympic runner, WWII bombardier, prisoner of war and lifelong prankster – makes a riveting (and at times horrifying) story. I learned so much about, and gained so much respect for, the experience of POWs during World War II. I also enjoyed learning more about the Pacific theater of the war (I’m far better informed about the war in Europe). And how fun to picture Louie and his airman pals in Hawaii, since I’ve been there. (This was the first selection for our brand-new book club.)

Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspear
I love the Maisie Dobbs series and so was thrilled to read an ARC of this ninth installment. This case is personal for Maisie – it deals with the death of a man she has known since childhood. As always, both the history and the mystery are beautifully told and finely plotted. (I received an ARC, because I’ll be participating in the March is Maisie Month Blog Tour when the book comes out in late March. Look for my full review then.)

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, William Deresiewicz
A witty gem of a memoir from a man who, by his own admission, was a self-centered jerk before he discovered Jane Austen. After reading Emma for a graduate class, he was hooked, and has since read and reread Austen’s novels. She taught him about true friendship, approaching the world without cynicism, and (of course) how to relate to women. Erudite and thoughtful (and a welcome bit of levity after the two books above).

Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine, Tracy Crow
Crow’s story isn’t an easy one – an abusive father, an early drinking problem, a career in the Marines when women still weren’t welcome. But she persevered and worked her way up the ranks, till an extramarital affair threatened to destroy her career. She writes with quiet honesty about her years in the Corps, though the reader is left wondering exactly why she threw away her career. To review for Shelf Awareness. Out April 1.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal
I won an ARC of this book (out April 3) from Goodreads. This is the first in a new series about Maggie Hope, born English, raised in the U.S. and living in London during World War II. The first few chapters were a bit clunky – both the author and the main character were finding their feet – but the action took off when Maggie began working for Winston Churchill and searching for her long-lost father. There’s also an IRA plot, the beginnings of a love story and plenty of detail about life in 1940s Britain. (Someone tell me: where did they get all that alcohol?) A fun, quick read.

An Impartial Witness, Charles Todd
I got a jump on the Bess Crawford read-along with this second installment. Bess investigates the murder of a wounded soldier’s wife, which draws her into a tangle of family relationships and secrets. The action focuses on her times in England on leave, almost to the exclusion of her times in France as a nurse (odd, though necessary, as the mystery lay back in England). Well plotted; the mystery kept me guessing for quite a while. And I like the supporting characters: the mother-hen landlady, the Scotland Yard inspector, the family friend who helps Bess find answers.

South of Superior, Ellen Airgood
I loved this debut novel – a warm, well-told tale of hardscrabble life in upper Michigan, where most people struggle to get by but help each other when they need it. Airgood runs a diner in Michigan, so she knows whereof she speaks. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, especially precocious Greyson and crotchety Gladys, and I cheered as they all began to find their way.

The Green Mill Murder, Kerry Greenwood
More adventure for Phryne Fisher – this time she flies off to the bush of northern Australia to find a missing man (while investigating a murder in which his brother is a suspect). This one didn’t wrap up quite as neatly as the others, but it was still good fun, with an interesting cast of characters.

The Baker’s Daughter, Sarah McCoy
I met Sarah at the Concord Bookshop a couple of weeks ago – she is charming, and I savored every bite of this delicious book. Two strong women – Elsie Schmidt, the titular baker’s daughter, and Reba Adams, journalist – meet when Reba interviews Elsie at her German backerei in El Paso. The book tells both their stories alternately: Elsie’s coming of age during World War II and Reba’s life unfolding in present-day West Texas. (When I told Sarah I grew up in Midland, she said, “Oh, you’re from the Texas I know.”) Beautifully written, heartbreaking and hopeful. Highly recommended.

Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life, Mike Cope
Mike is a dear friend and former minister; he performed our wedding, and he grew up with my dad. His daughter, Megan, was mentally challenged, but her life and death taught him a great deal about faith and doubt and love. He weaves together stories from her life with promises from the Bible about our hope of a new heaven and a new earth – but he doesn’t gloss over the raw pain of grief or the difficulty of learning to keep going. His words have given me comfort in my own griefs, and I so appreciate his honesty.

(NB: I am an IndieBound affiliate, and this post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission if you purchase a book through one of the IndieBound links above. Plus, you’ll be supporting local independent businesses!)

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I recently mused on the current popularity of World War I stories in our culture – Downton Abbey (I loved the Season 2 finale!), the Maisie Dobbs series (I just read an ARC of the newest installment), and others. And thanks to Book Club Girl, I can keep indulging my taste for this fascinating era – she’s hosting a read-along of the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd.

Bess is a nurse in World War I who keeps stumbling upon mysteries, and is also struggling to find her place in a rapidly changing England. Raised in India, she inherited a strong sense of duty and a mile-wide stubborn streak from her officer father; she’s blunt, thoughtful and hardworking. I’ve already read A Duty to the Dead, the first book in the series, but you have plenty of time to catch up since the first discussion isn’t till March 26. Here are the other titles and dates for the read-along:

April 30An Impartial Witness discussion
May 1A Bitter Truth paperback on sale
May 29
A Bitter Truth discussion (May 28 is Memorial Day)
June 5An Unmarked Grave – new hardcover on sale
June 25
An Unmarked Grave discussion
June 28
Book Club Girl on Air Show with Charles Todd to discuss the entire series

Look for updates along the way on Twitter (#besscrawford), and on the Book Club Girl and Charles Todd Facebook pages. If you’re going through Downton withdrawal (or simply intrigued by a good mystery), I hope you’ll join us!

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