Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

This is the second in Todd’s Bess Crawford series following “A Duty to the Dead.” The book opens in 1917 with Bess accompanying a shipload of wounded soldiers back to England from the tenches in France. After turning her charges over to others, Bess sees a woman she knows, but only from the photograph pinned to one of her severely wounded patients. The woman is her patient’s wife. Bess is shocked to see the woman in tears talking to a man who was obviously her lover. When the woman is later murdered, Bess reports what she has seen to the Scotland Yard detective in charge of the case.

When the husband commits suicide, Bess feels she must investigate the woman’s murder instead of letting Scotland Yard conduct the investigation.

Todd has a rich cast of characters each met in his/her turn as Bess begins peeling back the layers of the dead woman’s life to find out why she was murdered. The obvious suspects are eliminated one by one. In the end, Bess’ life is in danger from the murderer.

This is not a fast-paced mystery. The reader is with Bess as she uncovers each piece of evidence and as she tries to puzzle out who killed the young woman and why. With each new piece of evidence, she gets closer to answering her own questions.

Unbeknownst to either Bess or the reader, each piece of the puzzle as it slips into place, draws her ever closer to real danger. When the killer attempts to kill another young woman, a cousin of the first victim, Scotland Yard arrests a wounded soldier whom Bess has spent time with. Bess is convinced that he is innocent which, of course, only spurs her on. Bess is not omniscient, she believes the people she likes who often withhold key pieces of evidence.

As the case evolves, Bess narrows the suspects to two. Todd has you, like Bess, wanting one character to be the killer and in a twist, finding out it was another character who was the real killer.

Todd draws you into the book slowly but surely. Toward the end, when Bess is desperate to save the young man accused of the murder, you’ll find yourself feeling the same urgency and will be unable to put the book down - regardless of the hour.

With each entry in this series, Bess becomes more fully fleshed out as a young woman dedicated to her patients on the front lines in France, a loving daughter, a caring friend, and someone you’d like to spend more time with.

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