An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery Rating:
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World War I nurse Bess Crawford, introduced in A Duty to the Dead, returns in an exciting new mystery in which a murder draws her inexorably into the sights of a cunning killer

It is the early summer of 1917. Bess Crawford has returned to England from the trenches of France with a convoy of severely wounded men. One of her patients is a young pilot who has been burned beyond recognition, and who clings to life and the photo of his wife that is pinned to his tunic.

While passing through a London train station, Bess notices a woman bidding an emotional farewell to an officer, her grief heart-wrenching. And then Bess realizes that she seems familiar. In fact, she's the woman in the pilot's photo, but the man she is seeing off is not her husband.

Back on duty in France, Bess discovers a newspaper with a drawing of the woman's face on the front page. Accompanying the drawing is a plea from Scotland Yard seeking information from anyone who has seen her. For it appears that the woman was murdered on the very day Bess encountered her at the station.

Granted leave to speak with Scotland Yard, Bess becomes entangled in the case. Though an arrest is made, she must delve into the depths of her very soul to decide if the police will hang an innocent man or a vicious killer. Exposing the truth is dangerous—and will put her own life on the line.

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  1. J. Lesley says:

    Rating

    Being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes nurse Bess Crawford an impartial witness to a scene played out by an extremely distraught woman and a military officer on his way to board a train to the war front in France. If Bess had not seen a photograph of the woman so often at the bedside of an injured officer she has just escorted to a convalescent home, she would not have stopped and watched in amazement as the drama played out before her. As it was, there could be no doubt in her mind that the woman in question was the wife of Lieutenant Evanson and she was having a deeply personal encounter with a man who was most definitely not her husband. After returning to France Bess discovers a drawing and newspaper article stating that Scotland Yard is requesting help from the public regarding the murder of Mrs. Marjorie Evanson. From the information in this article Bess realizes that Mrs. Evanson died on the very night she saw her at the station. The right thing to do is to send off a letter to the investigating officer stating what Bess witnessed.

    This second book in the series featuring Nurse Bess Crawford takes us back to the world of England during the Summer of 1917 when the fighting was fierce on the battlefields of France. The wonderful characterizations are there again for the reader to enjoy as we are reacquainted with Bess’ parents and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, Mrs. Hennessey her landlady and some of the other women Bess shares the flat with. Once again Charles Todd shows the reader how knowing one person can lead to an introduction to another person which can then lead to an invitation to a house party where Bess can accumulate information regarding the Evansons and the people who were involved in their lives. The wonderful examples of the ripples of the pond reaching out to touch more and more people and uncovering more and more love, jealousy, anger, rage, hate and betrayal. I absolutely love reading these books, whether it be the Bess Crawford series or those featuring Ian Rutledge, because these authors allow me to become completely involved in the lives of their characters. They take on almost lifelike qualities.

    This particular story does not resolve itself quickly, it takes months for all of the actions to unfold because in this story Bess actually has to travel back to France to work in her nursing capacities. But she does manage to investigate more of the Evanson mystery every time she gets back in England and she certainly is not shy about asking for help from all those around her. In the first book (A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford)) Bess is in England the entire time to solve the mystery because she is on leave from her duties while her broken arm heals. In this novel there is quite a bit of going back and forth from France to England and even from London into the countryside. These situations came rather close to becoming irritating for me, but I honestly don’t see how the plot could have unfolded without all the “travel” Bess did.

    Once again I found this novel to be a wonderful historically atmospheric novel with a very determined and strong willed heroine. But these authors make Bess into the type character who can be wrong, who can make mistakes, and yet who I always feel is a genuinely warm caring individual who simply wants to help in any situation she finds herself in. I’m not a fan of the modern super-woman type fictional character. Bess Crawford never seems to me to be portrayed in that way so I like her and I’m interested in the cases she becomes involved in. I highly recommend this series and the other works written by these authors.

  2. Jill Meyer says:

    Rating

    Charles Todd is back with the second book in the “Bess Crawford” series. And as with all their writing – “Charles Todd” is actually a mother-son writing team – the book is excellently plotted with very nuanced characters who take the reader back to the dark days of WW1 Britain. Their first series is the Ian Rutledge post WW1 books.

    Bess Crawford is the only child of an English colonel and his wife who spent many years in Imperial India. At the beginning of the Great War, Bess wants to serve her country and joins the army as a nursing sister. Serving near the Front, Bess experiences the natural detritus of war – the massive number of casualties who flood her nursing station. Returning to England during a leave – and after escorting wounded soldiers home from the Front – Bess is obliquely involved in a murder of the wife of one of her wounded patients. She tries to solve the murder as a gesture of respect to the soldier, who committed suicide after his wife’s murder.

    The character Bess Crawford might be compared to Masie Dobbs, the former British nurse turned Private Investigator in post-war Britain. Both characters are beautifully drawn and are fully-realised personalities. Crawford’s period is the last days of WW1 whereas Dobb’s is post-war and into the 1930’s. Both are excellent series-books.

    I’m looking forward to more Bess Crawford books. Todd is a great storyteller.

  3. Burritoman "USA" says:

    Rating

    The mystery/suspense fan in me isn’t all that easy to please. In fact, the majority of the books I read have a “been there, done that” feel to them. Originality is in short supply. However, “An Impartial Witness” IS an excellent read, surprising to the end. Recommended.

  4. S. R. Schnur says:

    Rating

    Bess Crawford is a military nurse in WWI. She tended a convoy of wounded being sent home. One of the wounded men carried his wife’s photo with him at all times. It seemed to give him great comfort. Bess Crawford is, therefore, surprised to see the wife at the train station bidding a tearful farewell to a soldier headed off to the front.

    Bess herself has to head back to the front too. But the plot proceeds from there. The plot is convoluted. The characters are well drawn – even the extraneous characters. The setting is a fascinating set of contrasts, with the front itself a counterpoint to the desperate effort of prewar normality at home in England. If you liked the first book, “A Duty to the Dead,” you will love this one.

  5. Esther Schindler says:

    Rating

    Sometimes, if you interrupt me while I’m reading a book to ask how I like it, I’ll respond, “Oh, it’s good,” in a quiet sort of 4-star way. But then I’ll tell you to shut up because I’m busy reading. And then I stay up late, way past my bed-time, to finish the book. I realize only after I’m done that this is a 5-star book. That pretty well describes my response to An Impartial Witness. It’s really, really good, but not in a manner to make me shout aloud.

    The back cover suggests that this book will appeal to those who like Jacqueline Winspear’s novels — and I can see why. In both cases, the protagonist is a World War I nurse who gets involved in solving a mystery. Winspear’s heroine is (or rather becomes) a professional detective, though. This Bess Crawford novel would be considered a “cozy mystery” but for the historical setting.

    Bess has nursed an aircraft pilot for quite a while after he was severely burned in France; the man held onto a photo of his wife to give him hope. Right after delivering the pilot to longer-term care back in England, Bess sees the wife crying all over a serviceman at the train station. The woman is distraught enough that Bess runs after her, to no avail. But soon thereafter, she learns that the pilot’s wife was murdered that night. Thus she becomes involved in finding out who did it…

    The mystery is a good one (though I confess I solved some of the plot points before Bess did) and obviously, given my sleepiness this morning, held my interest all the way through. But what makes this book so enjoyable is the writing style (which is gentle, even when describing a war scene), entirely plausible characters (even the obnoxious ones), and the historical detail that brings the era to life. From an upper-class woman fretting about finding chickens to serve dinner guests to the despair and loneliness of relatives worried about the fate of their soldiers, I got a clear picture of day-to-day life in 1917.

    I really enjoyed this book. I think you will, too.

  6. Shana says:

    Rating

    I haven’t read a good mystery in a long time. For a change I picked this book as one of my Amazon Vine selections. This is the second of the author’s new series. The amateur sleuth here is Bess Crawford. Bess is a very compassionate nurse who works very close to the front lines during WWI. One of the soldiers she was treating held his wife’s photo near him at all times. When Bess is on leave she witnesses this soldiers wife very upset in what seems to be a compromising position. When the soldiers wife ends up being murdered that exact day Bess sets out to figure out what happened to her.

    I was a little worried that by first reading the second of the series that I’d be lost. That wasn’t the case. You should be able to pick this up and get to know Bess just like if you had read the first of this series.

    The mystery here isn’t too difficult to figure out, but that didn’t bother me. I enjoyed following Bess’ journey and wondering just how she would figure out who had done it. This book reminds a little of a grown-up Nancy Drew type mystery or a cozy mystery. There’s really no explicit language or compromising positions here, which was nice for a change.

    One of the only things I wished for in the storyline was for more details of how and why the victim and her attackers relationship started. I felt like I just needed to know this to understand the victims emotions when Bess saw her before she was murdered. I didn’t think the reasons given where really developed enough.

    Overall, I’d give this one a 5 as I rather enjoyed it. It’s not a brainteaser or spine-tingler at all just a good mystery to set down with for tea.

  7. J. B. Hoyos says:

    Rating

    During World War I, nurse Bess Crawford is returning from the French battlefields. While standing on the platform of London’s Waterloo Station, she witnesses a distraught Marjorie Evanson attempting to seek solace from a seemingly cold-hearted soldier. That very night, Marjorie is repeatedly stabbed and thrown into the river. With his wife dead and his face burned beyond recognition, pilot Meriwether Evanson slashes his throat. Determined to find Marjorie’s killer, Bess becomes involved in the lives of Marjorie’s family and in-laws: the Meltons and the Garrisons. She soon plunges into a vicious family feud composed of deranged, vicious aristocrats – one of which is a cold blooded killer.

    Having fallen in love with the sweet, kind hearted Bess Crawford, I was excited to once again travel back in time to be with her when she solved another case involving a murderous family. I found Charles Todd’s “An Impartial Witness” to be as exciting and intriguing as the debut, “A Duty to the Dead.” The treacherous backdrop of World War I; the gruesome, high body count; and the suspense of a man hanging for a crime he didn’t commit kept my eyes glued to the pages. It was imperative that Bess find out who killed Marjorie Evanson in order to prevent her new friend, the handsome, gallant soldier, Michael Hart, from hanging. There were many suspects consisting chiefly of family members who would’ve benefited from Marjorie’s death.

    Why do I love Elizabeth “Bess” Crawford of Somerset, England? She is a selfless, loving person. Her father, the famous Colonel Richard Crawford, is a wealthy man. Bess could’ve remained home during the war, performing simple, safe tasks for the cause such as knitting scarves and blankets for the soldiers. Instead, she risks her life on the battlefield treating wounded soldiers. There is one scene which rivaled the horrifying sinking of the Britannica in “A Duty to the Dead.” Bess and her comrades are menaced by machine gun fire coming from a German fighter pilot.

    On the battlefield, Bess also takes care of the German wounded. She sees them as patients – with families who worry about them – rather than as enemy soldiers. She prays and weeps for them as well. When she leaves home, she tells her mother not to pray for her safety but for the safety of her wounded patients. When Bess was standing on the train platform at Waterloo Station, she could’ve turned away upon seeing Marjorie’s distress. Instead, she felt emotionally distraught over it and wanted to chase after Marjorie, to calm her, after the cold-hearted soldier boarded the train. Unfortunately, she lost Marjorie in the surging crowd.

    When Bess read about Marjorie’s murder in the newspaper, she could have ignored it. Instead, she went to Inspector Herbert and told him what she had witnessed. Everyone told her, including her own family, not to get involved. However, Bess was determined that justice would prevail even though she was putting her own life in danger. As long as she meddled into the affairs of the Meltons and the Garrisons, her life would be in constant danger. The Meltons and the Garrisons hated each other and they hated members within their own families. None of them would think twice about killing Bess in order to escape the hangman’s noose.

    Needless to say, Bess Crawford is one of the most likeable heroines I’ve met in crime fiction. I wish I could marry her but I doubt that I’m her type and her stalwart father would never approve. I’m not a fighting man for starters. However, I feel fortunate to have read about Bess in Charles Todd’s excellent historical mysteries. I pray and hope that this dynamic writing duo – consisting of mother and son – continue to publish more in this unique series that is rich in history, suspense and romance. I look forward to the next installment. Another historical mystery with a strong female lead, which I also recommend, is Irene Fleming’s “The Edge of Ruin.” Other historical mysteries that the reader might enjoy are Daniëlle Hermans’ “The Tulip Virus” and Julian Cole’s “The Amateur Historian.”

    Joseph B. Hoyos

  8. R. Olsavicky says:

    Rating

    I usually don’t read or particulary like historical novels. Yet, I have loved every novel by the mother & son writing team – Charles Todd. I discovered them with their first “Rutledge” novel A TEST OF WILLS and have read and loved all their subsequent work. Many of their novels are 5 STAR works. I liked their first Bess Crawford novel and enjoyed this one also. The only weak link to be dealt with is just how much leave can Bess really get. The atmosphere, plotting and characteriztion is on an extremely high level and I expect even greater work in the future with this new series. The detailed accuracy of the era is dead on. My only critism of their latest work is: Bess seems to get a lot of convienent leave and Rutledge seems to do an inordinate amount of driving in the latest novels.

  9. Gail Rodgers says:

    Rating

    This book takes place during World War I and begins not quite in the trenches but at the aid station/hospital nearby. Amidst the muck, mud, blood and filth wounded soldiers are being tended to by devoted nurses who in age where high society women were generally gently cared for, some left it all behind to help nurse the soldiers. Bess Crawford was one of these women. As the story begins, she escorts some of the wounded soldiers back to England and by a fluke sees one of her wounded soldiers’ wife crying in the arms of another soldier at the train depot. Through a series of circumstances she finds that the woman was murdered later that day and her patient, subsequently commits suicide feeling he has nothing left to live for. She writes to the detective in charge of the investigation to let him know that she had seen the women and then over the course of each leave she gets, she becomes more and more involved finding out who killed the woman.

    Solving a mystery during the time of war and almost 100 years before cell phones, faxes, etc. is difficult enough, but breaching the social class distinctions and where honor is everything became far more of a problem. But eventually Bess solves the mystery of who the killer was in time to save her friend from death. Not only was the book interesting, it also gave insight into the war and some of the difficulty the English people and solders faced during that awful time. I enjoy reading this book as it not only tells a story, but it also teaches you. I would certainly be happy to read more books in this series.

  10. Sarah Banks says:

    Rating

    “An Impartial Witness” is the second Bess Crawford mystery. The fact that I have not had a chance to read the first did not interfere with my enjoyment or understanding of the book. Bess nurses severely burned soldiers during WWI, one of which commits suicide when he learns that his wife has died. Bess soon realizes that she saw this woman the day she died & quickly tells Scotland Yard who reveals that this woman was murdered & pregnant with her lover’s child. When Bess is invited to a weekend gathering at a country estate, she realizes that the estate belongs to the soldier’s family & is drawn deeper in the murder mystery.

    I very much enjoyed “An Impartial Witness.” The writing was of a higher quality than most mysteries, & Bess is a likable character. Some of the plot seemed a little too contrived; for example, Bess is invited to a weekend gathering that just happens to be given by the sister of the soldier she nursed. But I am really looking forward to the third installment of this series.