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A Question of Honor (Bess Crawford) Hardcover – August 27, 2013
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Author One-on-One: Charles Todd and Deborah Crombie
Deborah Crombie is the bestselling author of 15 mystery novels featuring Scotland Yard Detective Inspector James, and Detective Superintendent Kincaid, including her latest,
Deborah Crombie: Even though this is the fifth book in the "Bess Crawford" mystery series, it reads like a stand-alone novel. What's your trick to writing a series novel that can be enjoyed by a newcomer as well as a fan?
Charles Todd: We try to put ourselves in the readers’ shoes, so that he or she can start the series anywhere, and still feel right at home. That means concentrating on the current plot and setting, to make it as exciting as if it were the first time Bess ever tried to solve a mystery. That keeps the character fresh too, because our enthusiasm for Bess comes through.
DC: There is a wonderful subtext to the relationship between Bess, the WWI battlefield nurse, and Simon, her father's right-hand man in the military. What's really going on there?
CT: Simon and Bess haven’t told us yet. There’s most certainly chemistry there, a lot of it. Perhaps it hasn’t dawned on them yet that there might be something more between them. Still, every once in a while, a twinge of jealousy crops up…
DC: The scenes of the British Army in India during the Colonial era (which form the background for the current story) are so colorful and fascinating, not the usual stuff of a mystery series. What inspired you to give Bess and her family a history in India?
CT: India made Bess such an intriguing character to work with. We didn’t want her to be a staid Victorian. Instead she experiences Army life and understands duty. Her education includes a different, exotic culture. And the memory of the 1857 Indian Mutiny is always fresh, a constant reminder of danger. If you’re going to write about a woman who can stand on her own two feet, there has to be an explanation of how she learned to be so independent. A traditional background wouldn’t have worked.
DC: Will Bess ever meet up with Inspector Rutledge, the protagonist of your other mystery series?
CT: So far, we haven’t come up with any good reason for letting them meet. But there is one character who is in both series—Melinda Crawford. She’s a cousin of Bess’s family and has an Army background in India herself. She’s also a close friend of Rutledge’s family. Who knows if she’ll ever introduce these two? And what will Simon have to say to that?
DC: Bess is such a wonderful character, she feels so contemporary while still being true to her time. She has a real talent of drawing information out of others. What--or who--was your inspiration for Bess?
CT: The familiar Victorian woman, repressed and living under the thumb of her father and then her husband, is only one side of the picture. Intrepid Englishwomen traveled the world as missionaries or like Melinda Crawford, for adventure. Even the Suffragettes were ready to endure prison for their cause. The nurses who served in France, saving lives, were remarkable for their courage and devotion to duty. These are the real-life women who inspired Bess, women on the threshold of our time but still a very real part of their own.
A battlefield nurse familiar with the horrors of trench warfare, Sister Bess Crawford is tirelessly competent, stubborn, and endlessly in motion, though perpetually exhausted. Lieutenant Wade, previously with Bess father’s regiment, reputedly killed five civilians in India and two in England and was presumed killed while attempting to flee. Wade was therefore never brought to justice, casting a pall over regimental honor. Now, years later, Bess bumps into him on the battlefield before he disappears again, and in her moral indignation she sets off in search of an explanation. While on leave, Bess takes shameless advantage of her friend Simon, forcing him to drive her around as she vets shifty and suspicious characters connected to Wade’s childhood and leaves a trail of deadly consequences in her wake. Despite this flitting about, suspense is lacking in this heavily interpretive fifth installment in the series, though series fans will enjoy another adventure of the intrepid and endlessly curious Bess—a heroine whose intuition rivals tht of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs but whose spunk doesn’t quite match that of Anne Perry’s Hester Latterly. --Jen Baker
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Top customer reviews
When Beth grows up and is working in the war, taking care of the wounded, she runs across this very man. She knows him from his treatment of her and others, and cannot believe he is capable of murder. So she starts looking into his background, while trying to decide whether to bring his existence to the knowledge of the authorities. In the process, she finds out about how badly many of the children who were sent home for education to England, were treated. This apparently happened to the missing man and his sister, and this provides information to Beth as to how this man was involved in the murders. But it also provides other possible suspects, and as Beth and her friend, Simon, look more deeply into these deaths, more deaths follow...making imperative that they figure out who did the original murders.
It was funny, because just before reading this book I saw something in the history section of Pinterest about this very problem both in the U.S. and in England. Reading about this again made me go look up some of the history of what they called 'home children', children whose parents were overseas in the colonies who were sent home for an education. Most of the time, parents had no idea what was happening with their children...and the children were from the time period were taught not to complain or say anything. So many children were hurt, and some died from lack of care. The book incorporates Rudyard Kipling who was one of these children, and that explains some of his writings.
The book was fine for the most part. As other reviews have said, some of the writing was repetitious, and I feel was done in order to lengthen the book. I don't think readers need to hear for the umpteenth time why the protagonist feels the need to keep explaining herself.
This book by Todd wasn't as good as some of the other ones, where the writing is tighter...but it is still an enjoyable read.