Book Reviews: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd and The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

A Casualty of War
A Bess Crawford Mystery #9
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7878-2
Hardcover

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!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

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The Gate Keeper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #20
Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7871-3
Hardcover

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.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Reviews: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd, and Masaryk Station by David Downing

The HeistThe Heist
Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Bantam, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-54304-23
Hardcover

I found this novel to be superficial.  The press release accompanying it says, among other things, that it is filled with “popcorn thrills.” I find it doubtful that it would make a good movie or television episode.  Why it took two talented, best-selling authors to write it leads one to scratch his/her head in wonder.

It would appear that FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare was created hopefully as another heroine like the popular Stephanie Plum character from another Evanovich series.  Not even close.  She is a shallow personality full of clichés, as is the novel itself.  The plot is simple (no pun intended):  Kate captures a con man, Nick Fox, only to see him released by her superiors to propagate a bigger con to capture a fugitive financier who stole $500,000 and is secreted on an Indonesian island. To make matters worse, Kate is partnered with Nick in an attempt to capture Fox, recover the money and return him to the United States for arrest.  Of course the whole operation, including the kidnapping, is illegal (but then is the FBI or the U.S. government free from such accusations?).

On a positive note, the writing is smooth and the reading is easy.  Enough said.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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The Walnut TreeThe Walnut Tree
Charles Todd
Morrow Paperbacks, October 2013
ISBN:  978-0-06-223687-6
Trade Paperback

A change of pace for this mother-son author team:  A love story, rather than a mystery.  But still set at the start of World War I, with insights into the British class system and the horrors of war. It is the story of Lady Elspeth Douglas, torn between the attractions of two men, duty, and the iron hand of her guardian stifling her independent nature.

Just before the outbreak of war, Elspeth is in Paris, at the behest of her pregnant friend who is awaiting the birth of her first child. After the baby’s birth and the German invasion, she attempts to return to England.  Along the way she voluntarily becomes involved in the hostilities, bringing water to the troops.  There she meets Captain Peter Gilchrist, setting up an emotional conflict with her fiancé, Alain, to whom she sort of became betrothed the night before he left to join the army.  When she gets back to England, she decides to become a nurse, and serves well in France, until her guardian decides that that is not an activity fit for a lady.

The Walnut Tree is an emotional tale from several points of view. And it is told without embellishment, simply and in a straightforward manner. And the writers couldn’t resist introducing a mystery, even if only in passing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Masaryk StationMasaryk Station
David Downing
Soho Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95223-5
Hardcover

With this, the sixth novel in the John Russell series, David Downing brings to a finale the chronicle covering the years between the World Wars, those following the collapse of Nazi Germany.   It has been quite a journey, with Russell having served as a double agent for both the Soviets and Americans, certainly as dangerous as an existence can be.  Each of the novels reflected the times and the clashes of the ideological differences between the two countries.

In the final book, the story of a divided Germany and Berlin is recounted, ending with the seeds that were sown in the fall of the Soviet Empire.  At the same time, the personal conflicts that beset Russell and others who at first embraced and then questioned socialism are explored and analyzed.

Each entry in the series was well-crafted to not only tell a gripping story of our times, but to call to mind the era as portrayed by real-life characters.  It has been an excellently told saga.  (It is unfortunate that the latest volume suffers from poor production, editing and proofreading, riddled with typographical and grammatical errors.)  Next spring, we are promised a new series by the author moving back in time to World War I.

My parenthetical criticism notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.