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A Bitter Truth: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Bess Crawford Mysteries) Paperback – May 1, 2012
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“Makes fine work of the brooding atmosphere.” (New York Times Book Review on A Bitter Truth)
“Outstanding.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Bitter Truth)
“Bess is a very strong series lead, the historical setting is as well developed here as it is in the Rutledge books, and the mysteries are just as elegantly constructed. Readers who have yet to sample the Crawford series should be strongly encouraged to do so.” (Booklist on A Bitter Truth)
“Few writers surpass Todd in depicting the insanity of war.” (Kirkus Reviews on A Bitter Truth)
“Todd brings World War I England and France to life with an intriguing plot and an intrepid sleuth.” (Library Journal on A Bitter Truth)
“A thoughtful mystery with an excellent plot, well-drawn characters and wonderful atmosphere.” (Associated Press on A Bitter Truth)
“A well-envisaged plot, a deep sense of time and place and characters drawn with care and compassion.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch on A Bitter Truth)
“Charles Todd has developed believable characters that carry along this story with lightning speed from the first page to the last.” (New York Journal of Books on A Bitter Truth)
“The Todds excel at complex characterizations....For lovers of upper-drawer British whodunnits and Anglophiles in general, A Bitter Truth should prove a sweet treat indeed.” (Wilmington Star-News on A Bitter Truth)
“A lovely picture of a slower world.” (Charlotte Observer on A Bitter Truth)
“A thoughtful mystery with an excellent plot, well-drawn characters and wonderful atmosphere.” (Indianapolis Star on A Bitter Truth)
“Combines believable characters, gut-wrenching suspense and a sobering commentary on the ravages of war.” (Deseret News on A Bitter Truth)
“Highly recommended—well-rounded, believable characters, a multi-layered plot solidly based on human nature, all authentically set in the England of 1917, make A Bitter Truth an outstanding and riveting read.” (Stephanie Laurens, New York Times bestselling author)
“Readers will enjoy Todd’s plucky, determined sleuth and a thrilling mystery that proves murders on the home front don’t stop just because there’s a war.” (Library Journal on An Impartial Witness)
“Bess Crawford is a strong and likable character.” (Washington Times on An Impartial Witness)
“A superb whodunit—just when you think you have it figured out, Todd throws a curve—and a moving evocation of a world at war.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch on An Impartial Witness)
“A smartly plotted, well-told mystery.” (Booklist on An Impartial Witness)
“A book rich in atmosphere and dense with plot.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch on An Impartial Witness)
“Todd’s excellent second mystery featuring British nurse Bess Crawford smoothly blends realistic characters with an intricate plot.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review) on An Impartial Witness)
“Find some cures for the post-Downton Abbey blues ... Charles Todd has been producing a series of highly praised detective novels set in the years immediately after World War I.” (Tulsa World Scene)
From the Back Cover
While attempting to help a woman in distress, World War I battlefield nurse Bess Crawford learns a bitter truth, that no good deed goes unpunished.
Returning to her London flat from the front lines in France for a well-earned Christmas leave, Bess Crawford comes upon a bruised and shivering woman huddled in the doorway. Propelled by pity, Bess takes her in. Yet despite the ill effects of a concussion suffered during a quarrel with her husband that erupted into violence, the woman decides to return home, and asks Bess to travel with her to Sussex.
At Vixen Hill, Bess discovers a family in mourning for an elder son who has died of war wounds, and a husband tormented by jealousy and his own guilty conscience. But when a troubled houseguest meets an untimely death, Bess finds herself the prime suspect, and on the trail of a vicious killer that leads back to war-torn France toward a startling revelation that will place her life in dire jeopardy.
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Top customer reviews
It is at Vixen Hall that Bess finds memories and lives buried in layers of guilt and regret and jealousy. Its a deadly combination alone but when one of the houseguests, who while drunk says something inadvertent, is found dead, it becomes a tangled web that threatens the entire family as well as Bess.
It is a masterful story with twists and turns leading to heart-stopping conclusion. This is not a story to miss.
It's still written excellently but, while the characters are well rounded and occasionally sympathetic, there's no one you can really root for, or hope they make it out of their ordeal intact as you can see no way out from their bleak future and the book never gives them any.
No character disappoints more however than Bess Crawford. What I admire about Bess is her commitment to the truth. Her refusal to shy away from uncomfortable or awkward facts. In the first two books she sought the truth and the killer, no matter who asked her to stop, no matter the incentive, even when the truth would hurt her personally. She dragged skeletons out of closets and had no respect for persons.
Suddenly however in `A Bitter Truth' Bess is keeping information from the police, even when asked point blank, despite having every reason to believe it was the motive for the murder, because she feels it's not her place to tell a family's secret. Where is the Bess from `A Duty to the Dead' and `An Impartial Witness', in both of which she dived into a family's secrets and lies, families she doesn't really know, and drags the truth into the light. Suddenly she believes in letting secrets remain in the dark? Suddenly she's lying to the police about a secret that could well be the motive of a murder. Where is the duty to the dead she became so committed to in the first book? Also gone is any of her respect for the police, and the only explanation I can see is because in the other books they were Scotland Yard, in this one they're country policeman. Which just implies Bess is a bit of a snob.
The mystery is also badly done, with no build up to the murderer or the explanation. Everything's reveled in the last 30 pages with no lead up. On top of which a side plot, which is rather dull and basically takes over the book, is left very unresolved. At the end one feels little resolution for the characters or as if any emotional journey has much been made: they feel left in the same state we found them.
Overall a disappointing book, with a depressing air, and it spoils our heroine's character a little.
This is not the first time a book has taken over my thoughts for days after finishing it, but usually that is because of the plot, while in this case it is in deep appreciation of how the author(s) constructed this wonder.
I have been reading mysteries since I was a pre-teen, so over 60 years, and I am rarely
mystified as to the who-dun-it part of the story. This time I was totally fooled, and I so enjoy how it was done.
Add in the continued descriptions from the earlier books as to the horrors of the battlefield hospital situation in France during WW I, and this is a near perfect book.
I have read reviews elsewhere in which a reader would be angry at the denouement, claiming that there was no foreshadowing - not true, or others dismayed at the heroine Bess' inability to say NO to Lydia's demands, but I think that also misses the mark.
There are two central mysteries here, the identity of the murderer and the identify of a missing small French orphan who may be a part of the Ellis family, and the very different motives of the people who want to find her or not find her.
Any misdirection to the reader, and there is a lot, is caused by the characters themselves and how they confuse these two issues.
The motive for the murders is indicated in the very beginning of the book and hinted at in other contexts throughout. The initial depiction of the murderer is also one that should alert the reader to question, and the character of Gran realizes things about this person and states them.
It is also very easy to dislike the character of Lydia and to wonder at how Bess is repeatedly persuaded by her to act in ways Bess does not wish to. I read one review that described this as co-dependent.
Instead, this is the moral dilemma of a woman of her time and place, raised in a military culture that insisted on duty and a social order that restricts the roles of woman of her class, stressed again by Gran.
Because she is immediately pulled into Lydia's trauma Bess has trouble detaching from the two main issues, which Simon does not, enabling him to look for other explanations.
The is also a delightful new character, who may be for this book only, an Australian soldier, wounded, and determined to return to his men.
If the book has a lot of misdirection, Bess herself is a master of it, knowing how to use partial and shaded truth to give the needed false impressions in delicate or dangerous situations.
If we dislike Lydia, who seems spoiled and aimless, it must be remembered that she has always been taken care of by a father or husband and does not know how to fend for herself or act in her own interests, and in a social order that wants her just the way she is. She is trapped in a house of women as a war drags on, with the constant worry that her husband will be killed, and with nothing to do with herself except read to a blinded soldier.
Modern women who have always had more options have no right to judge this, just be thankful for how far we have come since.
I wonder how this series could get any better and look forward to finding out.