Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crossing Genres: WWI Mystery

An Impartial Witness
By Charles Todd

This cozy mystery set in England during World War I features Bess Crawford, a young woman who supports the war effort by becoming a “nursing sister.” Bess is the daughter of a career military man. She was born and partly raised in India, and if she had been a boy would have followed in her father’s footsteps and joined his regiment. Since that route is closed to her, she receives some rudimentary training and becomes an army field nurse. The intrepid Bess tends the wounded in France, and often serves as transport nurse for groups of soldiers shipped home. On one such journey she cares for a badly wounded pilot, who is living only to see his beloved wife again. He even wears her photo pinned to his tunic. Bess sees her charges safely to the hospital, and is making her way to her flat when she spots the woman from the photograph, weeping in the train station and clinging to a departing soldier who seems impervious to her distress. The soldier boards his train, and the woman rushes from the station. Bess finds this odd, but not alarming, and gives it very little thought after returning to the front. However, she shortly thereafter sees a newspaper from home with this same woman’s picture in it – the woman has been murdered and the police are trying to trace her movements. Thus Bess becomes embroiled in a tragedy that leaves numerous victims both living and dead. Traveling back and forth between France and England, Bess works to find justice for the dead and to save an innocent man.

This is a well plotted mystery with a likeable heroine and an interesting setting. Life during the war brought with it many different kinds of hardship for both soldiers and civilians, and the stresses of everyday life are well represented. Though this story doesn’t focus on blood and gore, neither does it gloss over the ugly realities of battlefield casualties and associated trauma. The war is a catalyst for all that occurs, but it is clear that the murderer acts from self interest. An Impartial Witness is the second book in a series, and well worth picking up for fans of historical mysteries.


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