World War I British army nurse Bess Crawford proves that impartiality does not equal indifference in Charles Todd’s newest novel, An Impartial Witness. This work, the second book in Todd’s Bess Crawford Mystery series, will be released on August 31, 2010.
Bess, the transport nurse assigned to bring a group of badly wounded soldiers back to England from France, has among her charges Lieutenant Meriwether Evanson. Severely burned when the plane he was piloting crashed, the lieutenant carries with him a small framed photograph of his wife. He wears her picture pinned to his coat, and Bess notes that it seems to help bring him comfort from his severe pain.
Later, as she waits at the train station to return home, Bess witnesses a highly emotional encounter between a woman and man. Believing that she is watching the dissolution of a love affair, Bess is surprised to note that the woman involved is Lieutenant Evanson’s wife, Marjorie. Marjorie appears so distressed during the episode that Bess considers following her to make sure she does not harm herself, but she loses sight of Marjorie in the crowded station.
Back in France, Bess reads in a newspaper that Marjorie had been stabbed to death in London on that same day. Feeling obligated to reveal what she had seen to the police, Bess notifies Scotland Yard. When she learns later that Marjorie’s husband had killed himself after being informed of his wife’s murder, her compassion for both the lieutenant and his wife leads her into her own investigation of Marjorie’s death.
Bess’s roommate Diana and her friend Simon Brandon try to convince her to stop her quest for Marjorie’s killer, but she is unable to do so. As she explains to Simon after Lieutenant Evanston’s suicide, “I feel guilty enough . . . But I also feel responsible. . . .He was one of mine, Simon. He should have lived.”
Todd emphasizes Bess’s sense of personal responsibility by contrasting her actions to those of Helen Calder, Marjorie Evanson’s closest friend. Helen realized that Marjorie was involved with another man, but she “didn’t want to know” the details of the relationship. Helen admits to Bess, “You’re very brave to take on this search. It should have been me.”
Ironically, Todd provides a parallel between Bess’s reactions and those of Captain Ritter, a German officer whom she treats after he and his men are taken prisoner in France. Ritter refuses treatment for himself until all his soldiers are cared for. “I am responsible,” he tells Bess when she confronts him with neglecting his wounds.
An Impartial Witness adds to the convincing portrayal of a caring protagonist that Todd began in the series debut novel, A Duty to the Dead (2009). Caroline Todd and her son Charles, who write the Bess Crawford Mystery series under the Charles Todd pseudonym, have also written a second series that features Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I. The thirteenth Inspector Rutledge novel, A Lonely Death, is due out on January 1, 2011.
Mystery Series Examiner’s Notes:
The advance reading copy of An Impartial Witness used in preparing this review was provided by the book’s HarperCollins Publishers.
A list of this month’s other hardcover and paperback mystery series releases can be found on Stop,You’re Killing Me!
For more info:
Wendy Corsi Staub depicts a parent’s worst nightmare in ‘Scared to Death’
Janet Evanovich’s graphic novel ‘Troublemaker’ leads off July 2010 mystery series releases
Nelson DeMille’s ‘The Lion’ among new mystery series titles to be released in June 2010
‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ leads list of new May 2010 releases