Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

Title: An Impartial Witness
Author: Charles Todd
ISBN:  9780061791789
Publisher: William Morrow, 2010
Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery, #2 Bess Crawford series
Rating: B+
Source: Amazon Vine

First Line: As my train pulled into London, I looked out at the early summer rain and was glad to see the dreary day had followed me from Hampshire.

It is the early summer of 1917 and nurse Bess Crawford has returned to England from France with a convoy of gravely wounded soldiers. One of the men is a badly burned young pilot who wears a photo of his wife pinned to his tunic. He clings to life solely because of his love for her.

In a London train station Bess happens to witness the extremely emotional farewell between a woman and an officer. When the woman turns her head, Bess recognizes her. She is the wife of the young, burned pilot, which means that the officer is most definitely not her husband.

Back in France, Bess happens to see a newspaper article in which Scotland Yard is asking for any information about the woman in the sketch. The sketch is of the pilot's wife, the woman at the train station. Bess feels that she must become involved in the case because of the young pilot's love for his wife and because of the fact that she seems to be the last person to see the woman alive. It won't be long at all before Bess realizes just how dangerous her quest for the truth really is.

For me, the enjoyment in reading the books in this series comes not from deducing the murderer, but from immersing myself in the time period and in the character of Bess herself. Living in an era (as I do) in which it seems no one wants to claim responsibility for anything, Bess's sense of duty and responsibility is quite refreshing. She may have a stubborn and slightly reckless streak, but she's got an excellent safety net in her family-- and she knows how to use her common sense.

The mother-son writing duo known as Charles Todd has a long-running series set in the same era which centers around Ian Rutledge, a shell-shocked veteran who returns to his job at Scotland Yard. That series is also very good, but after a while, I tired of Rutledge being haunted by the ill-tempered spirit of a soldier shot for desertion.

Bess has no such haunts, for which I am grateful, and it seems that, if she finally becomes aware of someone right underneath her nose, she may have a relationship to help keep her grounded in future books. I like Bess, and I look forward to reading more books in the series to see if I'm right about her prospects.

If you've read Todd's Ian Rutledge series or Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series about a former World War I nurse as private investigator in 1930's London, you should enjoy this series about Bess Crawford.


  1. Love the storyline of this book. Sounds really good.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this series. I love the sepia tones of the cover. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cathy - Thanks for this excellent review. I like historical mysteries very much, and a series where I can really immerse myself in a time and place is very appealing.

  4. Mystica-- It is. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Kay-- You're very welcome!

    Margot-- I always think of the best historicals as my "Calgon Books"... when I want to be taken away to another place and time. :)

  5. Sounds like a good series, I've never read anything by this author but my interest is peaked.

  6. Oh this sounds fun! I'm not familiar with the author or the series.

  7. Kris-- It's a good series.

    Holly-- I hope you'll give it a try!


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