Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Bess Crawford Mystery Keeps Me Entertained, If Not Enthralled

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for An Impartial Witness, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, A Duty to the Dead.  Novels in the Bess Crawford series stand alone better than most, but I still advise—as always—reading books in a series in order.) 

As the summer of 1917 begins, nurse Bess Crawford comes home to England with a convoy of wounded soldiers.  Among them is Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a pilot who's been severely burned.  Despite his extensive injuries, he clings to life, holding fast to the photograph of his wife that is pinned to his shirt.  The depth of Lt. Evanson's hope and love touches Bess, who knows the man will need every ounce of tenderness he can get in order to heal.  

When Bess steps off her train and spies a distraught young woman bidding a tearful goodbye to a handsome officer, she's shocked.  Not because it's an unfamiliar scene—in fact, it's an all too common one—but because the woman is Lt. Evanson's wife.  Bess has seen the pilot's photograph too many times to be  mistaken.  But what is Marjorie Evanson doing here with another man when she should be at the clinic, comforting her suffering husband?  Bess tries to shake the whole thing off, knowing such things happen often enough when men are at war and their wives are left alone and lonely, sometimes for years at a time.  With only 36 hours in England, Bess plans to spend her time resting, not sticking her nose into other people's business.

Bess returns to the trenches in France only to see Marjorie's face again, this time in a newspaper story asking for information about a murder in London.  It seems Bess may have been the last person to see Marjorie Evanson alive.  When Scotland Yard arranges for her to come back to England to help with the case, Bess becomes entangled in the dead woman's world.  As she questions Marjorie's friends and family members, creeping ever closer to the truth behind the woman's murder, Bess puts her own life in jeopardy.  If she can't figure out who the killer is—and fast—she may not live long enough to see him/her brought to justice.  And if there's one thing Bess can't abide, it's loose ends.  She'll track down Marjorie's murderer if it's the last thing she does.  And, with a cold-blooded killer on the loose, it just might be the last thing she does.  

Although I thoroughly enjoyed A Duty to the Dead, the first Bess Crawford mystery, I wasn't as impressed with the second, An Impartial Witness.  I'm not sure why, exactly, except that the cast wearied me a little.  Not Bess.  I still like her, even though she's a bit cold and she uses people (especially the long-suffering Simon Brandon) in a way that's efficient, but often callous.  Her passion makes her admirable.  Rather, it was Marjorie's cronies that bugged me.  Still, the story kept me entertained, if not enthralled.  An Impartial Witness is, so far, my least favorite installment in this series, but it was still intriguing enough to keep me wanting more Bess Crawford.  I like her—did I mention that?  And I'm pretty sure her adventures are just going to keep getting better and better.    

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bess Crawford series, including A Duty to the Dead; A Bitter Truth; and An Unmarked Grave; also reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of An Impartial Witness from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you! 

1 comment:

  1. Well, I have to admit it sounds intriguing. I haven't heard of the first one, though.

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