A quiet but fully-wrought WWI mystery involving war orphans, family dynamics, and nurse Bess Crawford’s good intentions.
Mother-and-son writing team Charles Todd (the Ian Rutledge series) delivers the third in the Bess Crawford series. Bess, a World War I nurse and sometime amateur sleuth, is trying to make her way home on leave at Christmas when she discovers a battered and crying woman huddled on her London porch in the freezing rain. Of course Bess takes her in, and is persuaded to accompany Lydia back to her husband’s family home. A smattering of domestic violence is just the beginning; the family is haunted by past losses, at odds with one another and thrown further off-kilter by the question of a possibly missing and possibly illegitimate child. Bess’s hesitant commitment to Lydia and her family will follow her to the front lines of the war in France and back again, to the tense, almost haunted family estate where her own life will be endangered before all is resolved.
Todd paints a remarkable, poignant wartime scene of people quietly seething with tragedy and loss, stoically soldiering on, with layers of disinherited and heroic minor characters. Bess is a well-developed character: strong, brave and imperfect, she has involved herself beyond her intentions and proprieties in this story. Two male friends raise the question of a romance in the reader’s mind, but Todd is not ready to answer it yet.
This is a well-constructed and understated historical mystery. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs mystery series, in particular, will want to read A Bitter Truth immediately.
This review originally ran in the Sept. 2 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!