"A BITTER TRUTH," by Charles Todd, HarperCollins Publishers, $24.99, 340 pages (f)
Nurse Bess Crawford returns home to London for a well-deserved Christmas leave from the front lines of World War I only to find a lovely young woman, shivering and scared, seeking shelter in her doorway. Bess invites her inside and discovers an ugly bruise across her face as well as signs of a concussion.
By deciding to help her new friend in distress, Bess enters a world of family tragedies and long-held secrets. When a family friend is found murdered, Bess is plunged into a murder investigation in which she becomes one of the prime suspects.
Her untiring efforts to aid her friend and discover the killer’s identity before she becomes the next victim lead Bess to find both an ally and the truth in the most unlikely places.
Charles Todd, a mother-and-son writing team, combines believable characters, gut-wrenching suspense and a sobering commentary on the ravages of war in the third Bess Crawford mystery, “A Bitter Truth.”
The book transports readers to war-torn England and France in 1917, where soldiers suffer and often die despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses. Those who survive bring home emotional baggage, with the consequences of their actions while at war following them home.
“A Bitter Truth” describes injuries and death from war, discusses an illegitimate affair that results in the birth of a child and contains a few mild swear words. Charles Todd employs discretion with these adult themes, avoiding gratuitous language and detailed descriptions.
Readers familiar with the Bess Crawford series will find “A Bitter Truth” at least as engaging, if not more so, than her previous two mysteries. The characters in the book are believable and interesting in that they show a complex range of changing and conflicting emotions. Bess proves smart, sincere and as good a sleuth as she is a nurse.
In all of its complexity, the book can be confusing at times. Some passages beg re-reading as a means of clarification, especially in the final chapters as the story reaches its conclusion.
Overall, readers will enjoy the complex characters, significant amount of intrigue and the surprising conclusion offered in “A Bitter Truth.”