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An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Bess Crawford Mysteries) Hardcover – August 31, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in the summer of 1917, Todd's excellent second mystery featuring British nurse Bess Crawford (after 2009's A Duty to the Dead) smoothly blends realistic characters with an intricate plot. When Bess accompanies Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a severe burn victim, from the Continent to England, she's surprised to spot the pilot's supposedly devoted wife, Marjorie, crying on another man's shoulder at a train station. After returning to saving lives under German fire in France, Bess is stunned to read in a newspaper that Marjorie has been stabbed to death in London. Soon after, the depressed lieutenant commits suicide by cutting his own throat. Unable to resist involving herself in the murder investigation, Bess seeks to identify Marjorie's unknown companion, the possible killer. In addition to supplying a challenging puzzle, Todd (a mother-son writing team) does a superb job of capturing the feel of the battlefield and the emotional toll taken on those waiting back home for a loved one's return.
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From Booklist

In the second Bess Crawford novel (after A Duty to the Dead, 2009), the World War I battlefield nurse is escorting several injured soldiers back to England. Job done, Bess prepares to take a two-day leave, but, at the train station, she’s startled to see the wife of one of her patients in a rather emotional situation with another man. Later, after Bess learns that Scotland Yard is very interested in locating the woman, she finds herself on the trail of a killer. Todd—the pen name of a mother-and-son writing team—turns in another winning performance with a smartly plotted, well-told mystery. The Crawford novels are a nice change of pace from the heavier Inspector Rutledge books, and fans of mysteries featuring strong, appealing heroines will certainly embrace this one. Highly recommendable, especially (but not exclusively) to fans of the author’s previous books. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Series: Bess Crawford Mysteries (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061791784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061791789
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (232 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #738,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great-uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

Charles learned the rich history of Britain, including the legends of King Arthur, William Wallace, and other heroes, as a child. Books on Nelson and by Winston Churchill were always at hand. Their many trips to England gave them the opportunity to spend time in villages and the countryside, where there'a different viewpoint from that of the large cities. Their travels are at the heart of the series they began ten years ago.

Charles's love of history led him to a study of some of the wars that shape it: the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. He enjoys all things nautical, has an international collection of seashells, and has sailed most of his life. Golf is still a hobby that can be both friend and foe. And sports in general are enthusiasms. Charles had a career as a business consultant. This experience gave him an understanding of going to troubled places where no one was glad to see him arrive. This was excellent training for Rutledge's reception as he tries to find a killer in spite of local resistance.

Caroline has always been a great reader and enjoyed reading aloud, especially poetry that told a story. The Highwayman was one of her early favorites. Her wars are WWI, the Boer War, and the English Civil War, with a sneaking appreciation of the Wars of the Roses as well. When she's not writing, she's traveling the world, gardening, or painting in oils. Her background in international affairs backs up her interest in world events, and she's also a sports fan, an enthusiastic follower of her favorite teams in baseball and pro football. She loves the sea, but is a poor sailor. (Charles inherited his iron stomach from his father.) Still, she has never met a beach she didn't like.

Both Caroline and Charles share a love of animals, and family pets have always been rescues. There was once a lizard named Schnickelfritz. Don't ask.

Writing together is a challenge, and both enjoy giving the other a hard time. The famous quote is that in revenge, Charles crashes Caroline's computer, and Caroline crashes his parties. Will they survive to write more novels together? Stay tuned! Their father/husband is holding the bets.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Esther Schindler TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Holly TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I gave the first book in this series, "A Duty to the Dead" a 5-star review. I loved that book and thought it was one of the best mysteries I had read in a long time. It was the perfect balance of atmosphere, mystery and character. I was eager to read this one when it was published and grabbed it quickly. To be blunt, I was fairly disappointed.

The novel's main character is Bess Crawford, a British nurse serving in France during World War I. Bess finds herself caring for a badly burned pilot and ends up attending to him during the transport back to England. His injuries are severe but he hangs on to the will to live due to his intense love for his wife - the desire to be with her again keeps him alive. Upon arrival back in England, Bess is convinced she sees his wife with another man at the train station and the book is off and running from there.

While I enjoyed the previous book immensely, this one didn't work for me. 1) There were WAY too many coincidences to be anywhere near believable. 2) The main character of Bess became irritating to me after a while (she regularly reminds the reader how brilliant she is because she trained as a nurse, she often takes offense to the way people treat her since she has all this intellectual power, and her over-developed since of responsibility was grating). The mystery itself drug along to the point I no longer cared about the person(s) who died and who killed them. I pretty much just wanted it to be over but kept reading since I knew the first one had been so good that I thought it would pick up.

I am sad to report that a wonderful debut was followed up with a book that was less that satisfying. The sense of place, strong female role and interesting mystery of the first novel were replaced by something that left me disappointed at best. My high hopes were dashed with this one.
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Format: Hardcover
As the reader has followed the adventures of Bess Crawford, a nurse on active duty during WWI, we see what a caring person she is. We also observe her curiosity and in this story, we witness her duty to the dead.

The action of this story begins with Bess helping escort a group of injured soldiers back to England from the French battlefields.

One of the members of the group is a badly burned pilot who keeps a photo of his wife on his chest as if it represents his hope and reason for living.

After delivering the patients to the English clinic, Bess is given leave. She notices a woman at a train station giving a tearful goodbye to a soldier heading for the front. When the woman turns toward Bess, Bess regognizes the woman from the photo. It's the wife of the injured pilot. Bess consider's the husband suffering in pain at the clinic while his wife spends time with another soldier. Bess considers how unfair this is.

When Bess returns from her leave and has a chance to read a local newspaper, she's shocked to learn that the woman has been murdered. Not only that but that the woman was three months pregnant while her husband had been at the front for four months. The sadness continues when Bess reads that the injured pilot managed to find a scapel and committed suicide after learning the news.

Bess feels that she was placed in this situation and wants to learn more. On her next leave back to England, she visits the woman, Marjorie Everson's, family and learns of the antagonism that Marjorie's sister, Victoria, had for her. She also meets Lt. Everson's sister, Serena Melton, and finds that she is claiming that her sister-in-law's death was just a robbery gone bad.
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