Author: Charles Todd
Publisher: William Morrow, 2011
Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery, #3 Bess Crawford mystery
Source: Amazon Vine
First Line: A cold rain had followed me from France to England, and an even colder wind greeted me as we pulled into the railway station in London.
Bess Crawford has been given Christmas leave, and she's looking forward to time away from nursing the wounded and dying on the front lines in France. All she has to do is spend one night in her London flat before going home to her parents. Unfortunately she doesn't even get the front door to her flat open. A woman has taken shelter from the wind and rain in the doorway. Not only is she wet and cold, her face shows signs of a fist, and she's scared to death. Against her better judgement, Bess takes her in. Not only does she give the woman a place to stay, she lets the frightened stranger talk her into going home with her because she doesn't know how her husband (the man who hit her) is going to react.
Lydia lives out in Ashdown Forest, in a grand house called Vixen Hill. The landscape reminds Bess of the blighted land of France where war has destroyed every bit of grass and trees, and Lydia admits that it's so grim in winter that the place sucks the life out of a person. When they arrive, Bess finds a family gathered for a memorial service, and even though these people are grieving, there's still something in their behavior that makes Bess uneasy. When one of their number is found dead, Bess finds herself mired in the middle of murder.
The Ellis family of Vixen Hill is an interesting one. Many secrets and emotions are tied into the untimely death of a daughter many years ago. Just what those secrets are, and just what each family member's motivations are is what Bess has to find out in order to celebrate Christmas with her family.
This is the strongest book in this series so far. I think this is due, in part, to the fact that we finally see Bess as a nurse in France. In the other two books, she was on leave in England, but this time we see her performing her job, interacting with medical staff, doctors, soldiers, and officers, and moving from place to place in a war torn country. This makes her a more fully realized character, and I appreciated seeing this side of her.
Although this is the third book in the series, it stands alone well, so you don't have to worry about starting with the first book to keep your bearings. If you enjoy the Maisie Dobbs series written by Jacqueline Winspear, you should give Bess Crawford a try. Chances are, you'll like Bess, too.