Title: An Impartial Witness
Author: Charles Todd
Genre: Mystery, historical fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Rosalyn Landor
First line: As my train pulled into London, I looked out at the early summer rain and was glad to see the dreary day had followed me from Hampshire.
Cover blurb: It is the early summer of 1917. Bess Crawford has returned to England from the trenches of France with a convoy of severely wounded men. One of her patients is a young pilot who has been burned beyond recognition, and who clings to life and the photo of his wife that is pinned to his tunic.
While passing through a London train station, Bess notices a woman bidding an emotional farewell to an officer, her grief heart-wrenching. And then Bess realizes that she seems familiar. In fact, she’s the woman in the pilot’s photo, but the man she is seeing off is not her husband.
Back on duty in France, Bess discovers a newspaper with a drawing of the woman’s face on the front page. Accompanying the drawing is a plea from Scotland Yard seeking information from anyone who has seen her. For it appears that the woman was murdered on the very day Bess encountered her at the station.
Granted leave to speak with Scotland Yard, Bess becomes entangled in the case. Though an arrest is made, she must delve into the depths of her very soul to decide if the police will hang an innocent man or a vicious killer. Exposing the truth is dangerous—and will put her own life on the line.
An Impartial Witness seemed to get off to a bit of a slow start for me. In order to solve the mystery, Bess needed to be in England, but, as an army nurse, it would not be realistic to have her home on continual leave for weeks on end. There was a lot of back-and-forth, as Bess returned to duty in France, and then accompanied the wounded back to London. I like the scenes where she is nursing, and so would like to see a future entry into the series take place completely out in the field – I’m sure there were plenty of intrigues that happened on the front lines.
Once I reached about the halfway point, though, the mystery took off, and I had no difficulty finding time to keep listening. The best thing about this second book is the further exploration of Bess’s relationship with Simon Brandon, a man who served under her father when he was in the military and continues to act as aide to the family and friend to Bess. As the series progresses, I have a feeling that we’ll see their relationship deepen into more than friendship, and I look forward to those developments.
The other thing I enjoyed was that I was kept guessing until almost the very end of the book as to who the murderer was. I was absolutely convinced it was one person in particular – a character who was truly a despicable person – but the authors still managed to surprise me in the end.
While I didn’t like this second book in the Bess Crawford series as much as I liked the first one, it was still an engrossing mystery that I enjoyed very much. I will definitely be reading or listening to the rest of the books in the series.