A Casualty of War
A Bess Crawford Mystery #9
William Morrow, September 2017
In the waning days of WWI, Bess Crawford was stationed at a forward medical base close to the fighting when a Captain was brought in with a head wound. It turned out that the bullet merely scraped his scalp and he returned to his men the next day, but he claimed he was shot by a British lieutenant resembling his great grandfather, perhaps his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis. A few days later, he was returned to the facility, shot in the back. Again he told Bess the same man shot him. Bess got to know the Captain and believed his story.
The Armistice soon took place, and Bess was asked to accompany a convoy of wounded back to England and was granted a week’s leave. Instead of visiting home in Somerset, accompanied by Sgt. Major Brandon, she traveled to a hospital in Wiltshire where the Captain was being treated. She was appalled to find him strapped to his bed under horrible conditions (the medical staff thought him mad because of his outbursts regarding his claim to have been shot by a relative, attributing his condition to his head wound). Strengthening the diagnosis was the fact that James was killed a year before. Bess insisted he be unshackled and permitted to enjoy fresh air.
She then traveled to Sussex, James’ home, to determine the accuracy of James’ death, discovering even more complications, including the fact that after a brief meeting in Paris earlier in the war, James named the Captain his heir. Meanwhile, the Captain escapes from the Wiltshire hospital when taken for a walk. And the story goes on as the complications of the plot unfolds. The Bess Crawford mysteries, of which this is the ninth, artfully weave the agonies of war with the crimes Bess attempts to solve. With the end of the war on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, where will the series now go? It deserves to continue in peace, as well!
Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.
The Gate Keeper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #20
William Morrow, February 2018
Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, offers two different series: The Gate Keeper is from the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series (the other is the Bess Crawford novels). Both series take place in a similar time frame, during or after World War I, and are based in England (or France, of course, in the trenches). Rutledge served as a Captain and saw bloody action and was responsible for the execution of his Corporal, Hamish McCleod, who refused orders to lead his men into another futile charge over the top. Hamish still haunts Rutledge, and his memory serves as sort of assistant to the Inspector by offering observations and warnings when warranted.
As a result of shell shock, Rutledge was, for a time, treated for his mental condition, but now serves as a Scotland Yard detective. Since his release from the hospital, he has been living in the family home with his sister, who is married at the start of this novel. Returning from the wedding, he is unable to sleep and decides to go for a drive, ending up far away from his London apartment, where he finds himself witness to a murder. He insists on taking over the investigation and when another murder occurs, it becomes more important to uncover the reason for each. Rutledge learns of a third murder far away that might be related to the two he is working on, but it is assigned to another Scotland Yard detective.
The plot is fairly simple, but the solution is a lot more complicated and unexpected. Rutledge plods on until he finds a common thread to all three murders, then has to turn his attention to the question of who has actually performed the murders. And this he does with smoothness in this, the 20th novel in the series. On to the 21st.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.