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"There are already enough monuments to the dead"

An Impartial Witness  - Charles Todd

This review was previously posted on amazon on June 19, 2012:


This is the second book in the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd, which I read directly on the heels of the first.

***Plot Summary***

Once again, Bess Crawford finds herself at the center of a mystery when she sees the wife of a burn patient, whom she recognizes from the photograph that her patient carries with him always, saying farewell to a man at a train station as she boards her train to return to the war front. She can see that the goodbye is emotionally draining for the woman, and that she appears fraught and upset, while the man is cold and uncaring. It isn't long after her return to the front that she receives a newspaper that contains news of the woman's murder on that same day, obviously shortly after Bess has seen her at the station.

When Bess learns that her patient has committed suicide after learning of his wife's murder, she takes it upon herself to try to find out who has committed the murder, and why.


Once again, this book successfully immersed me in the life of WWI England. Bess Crawford is a warmly likeable character, a nurse, who moves between civilian life and military life in a way that seems very natural. I am a bit skeptical that movement between the war front and England was quite so easy as these books make it out to be, given that all of the characters seem to flit back and forth between London and the French front with about as much as difficulty as I have driving my car to my local grocery store for a gallon of milk. This is a small thing, though, and is a necessary plot device given that most of the primary characters are, in some way, associated with the war effort.

I am enjoying the ongoing character development of Bess, Simon, and her parents. I don't know if we are moving in the direction of a romance developing between Bess and Simon, but that is definitely one possible narrative arc for the books.

As for the mystery in this case, it was rather easily solved when it came right down to it. With any mystery novel, though, the investigation is more of the point than the solution, and the authors did a good job of moving the story along and maintaining interest. Bess is, perhaps, not as quick as some of the amateur sleuths, as she seems, sometimes, to fail to make connections that seem fairly obvious to the reader.

One of the things that I really liked about this book, though, is the focus on the war wives, and how difficult it was to serve your country by keeping the homefires burning. Often, the focus is on the hardships suffered by the soldiers, and make no mistake about it - their hardships were the greater. However, I think that acknowledging that it isn't easy to be the one left behind made for an interesting story in this novel.

Once again, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to historical mystery readers. It's well-written and well-edited and a solid, if slightly uninspired, example of the genre. If Amazon allowed for 1/2 stars, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars. Since Amazon doesn't, I felt like the book is better than just "OK", so I'm upgrading to four stars.