Copyright: August 2011 (William Morrow) 352 pgs
Series: 3rd in The Bess Crawford Mysteries
Mystery Sub-genre: historical amateur sleuth
Main Character: Bess Crawford, English military nurse during war
Setting: WWI, England and France
Obtained Through: Library Thing
This was my first Bess Crawford book and it stands alone fine. Bess is given holiday leave from her nursing duties and finds a women huddled at the door to her apartment building soaked to the bone and her face bruised. Although Bess doesn't want to get involved in Lydia's Domestic situation, she is talked into going with the women to her home to help her face her husband since Bess feels she has a concussion and wants to see she is cared for. Bess becomes enmeshed in a dysfunctional family in their bleak mansion. During the dinner party Lydia's husband Roger and his longstanding friend are distinctly heard in a lull in the dinner conversation talking about a suspected illegitimate child of Roger's in France. Naturally the friend is found dead the next day. Lydia asks Bess to locate the child in France and when Bess returns to the battlegrounds of France for her duties she enlists the help of an Australian officer to locate the orphanages so she can begin her search. Her search to find the child sets events tumbling out of control.
Bess as a character is fine as far as she goes. I found her motivations hard to understand through most of the book. Emotionally Bess was distant for me. She explains emotions but they didn't resonate with me. Always in the background is a family friend named Simon who I felt had more potential in any number of ways, but remains as a convenient chess piece to have assist Bess. The dysfunctional family and their bleak home called Vixen Hill provide a creepy atmosphere, giving this tale a Gothic touch. The Australian officer was an brilliant touch that I can only hope will be a return character in the next book.
The plot was nicely complex and the reader is along for the ride. It isn't until the last eighty or so pages that the final pieces to this puzzle are revealed and the story is suddenly racing along. There are many improbable parts to this tale, which would not have been too bad if I could have related a bit more with Bess, which I think is the main reason why this book took so long to get me interested. I felt no emotional connection and thus no immediacy from the tale. The Gothic touches and seemingly sinister family members make up for the down sides. As for the killer, there was not enough information to have figured out who it was so that added to the suspense in the final pages as things spun out of control. Without giving up too much, I would have liked the killer to have been a more central character rather than an almost sideline player.
This book offers an atmospheric historical tale which does lead the reader on a twisted path with a rather harrowing climax.