It is early summer 1917. Bess Crowford 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 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.
This is the second Bess Crowford mystery I read and it was no disappointment, though I’ll admit that I still liked the first one better. But then, first encounters with new authors are always special, so I’m not sure whether mine is only an impression.
Like the first, this was a strong WWI mystery, very well-constructed, with a cast of characters that felt real and coherent. I liked it that it was a ‘common’ mystery. I mean, there was nothing extravagant about it (the first one was a bit more peculiar), it was the kind of crime that we could read about in the newspapers.
This didn’t make it less interesting, it rather highlightened the characters’ personality and reasons, making it more involving rather than not.
The complication of the war was well woven into the plot. Once again, I loved how realistic Bess’s war experience was and how well-researched it was. I loved it that the mystery didn’t take Bess away from her duty, but rather it was built around it.
In this second novel the recurring characters seem to take more of a central stage and I loved getting to know Bess’s family. It is quite a remarkable family that adds to Bess’s personality rather than distract. Bess is a very remarkable character: brave, clever, compassionate. Getting to know her family, you see where she comes from.
I love this about series: the fact that we enter a world and a group of people that we learn to know little by little and we may love to go back to.
I sure loved encountering Bess’s world again. I’m sure I’ll be back.
An Impartial Witness
But there was nothing I could do. Rescuing kittens and dogs was one thing, marching up to complete strangers and asking what was wrong, was something else.
Still, I felt a surge of pity, and my training was to comfort, not to ignore, as her companion was doing.
I was about to walk around them when a whistle blew and she lifted her head to cast an anguished glance at the train, as if afraid it was on the point of departing.
I had the shock of my life.
I’d seen her before. There was no doubt about it.
Hers was the face in the photograph that the pilot, Lieutenant Evanson, had kept by his side like a talisman in France and in all the long journey home. His wife, he’s said. There was no doubt about that either.
I couldn’t be mistaken. I’d seen that photograph too many times as I worked with him., I’d seen it that very morning, in fact, when I’d changed his bandages one last time. She was looking up at the officer now, her eyes pleading with him. I couldn’t be sure who was leaving whom. But just then the engine’s wheel began to move, and the officer – I couldn’t see his rank, he was wearing a trench coat against the rain – bent swiftly to say something to her, kissed her briefly, and then hurried toward the train.
She lifted a hand as if to stop him then let it drop. He swung himself into the nearest compartment, shut the door, and didn’t look back. She stood there, forlornly watching him until he was out of sight.
It had all happened rather quickly, and I had no idea who this man might be, but I had the distinct impression that she never expected to see him again. Women sometimes had dreams or premonitions about their loved ones,, more a reflection of their own fears than true foreboding. They usually hid these well as they sent their man off to fight. But perhaps hers had been particularly vivid and she couldn’t help herself. It would explain his restraint and her desolation.
Before I could move on, she turned and literally dashed toward the exit. I tried to follow, but I lost her in the crush. By the time I reached the street, she was in a sea of black umbrellas as people made their way toward the line of cabs waiting there.
The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.