Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 6-11 // by Charles Todd

6. An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
7. A Pattern of Lies (2015)
8. The Shattered Tree (2016)
9. A Casualty of War (2017)
10. A Forgotten Place (2018)
11.  A Cruel Deception (2019)

Wow, first off I just have to say that I am SO excited that this series is apparently still being written, because every book I read was better than the one before it.  This series was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed every page.  While I had a few 3.5* reads in the first half of the series, these were all 4* and 4.5* reads.

In case you missed it, here is my review of the first five books in this series, which gives the background of the main character in this series, Bess Crawford, who works as a nurse during World War I.

I honestly don’t know exactly how to review these books other than to say that if you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you should definitely read them.  I also wasn’t sure how the series was going to work once the war was over, but book 9-11 are all post-war books, and they were my favorites.  The authors do such an amazing job capturing how the end of this war wasn’t exactly a joyous victory, but rather the slow, grinding halt of a tragedy that left a generation of men dead and maimed.  The absolute heartbreak of soldiers suffering from shell shock (so misunderstood at the time as well) and who would rather kill themselves than return home to a place where they no longer felt that they could be useful, due to the loss of a limb, was handled so, so well.

Yet these books aren’t all doom and gloom.  There is still a lot of hope there as well, the cautious optimism that maybe the world has learned something from this brutal, useless war.  The slow picking up of the pieces and trying to find a way forward.  Bess herself has, to this point, continued to work as a nurse for men recovering from the war, but she isn’t completely sure if that is what she wants to do forever.  It really feels like the door has been left open for Bess to explore a variety of places and adventures in future books.

There is a love interest (ish), but that has also been handled well.  Bess hasn’t felt like the war was the time or place to be worried about emotional entanglements, but now that it is over, there are a few glimmers of potential.

All in all, this series is moving from strength to strength.  I’ll be on the lookout for a twelfth book, and in the meantime may have to check out the other World War I series by this same mother/son writing duo.  As for the Bess Crawford books – highly recommended!

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Charles Todd

  1. A Duty to the Dead (2009)
  2. An Impartial Witness (2010)
  3. A Bitter Truth (2011)
  4. An Unmarked Grave (2012)

4.5.  The Walnut Tree (2012)
5.  A Question of Honor (2013)

WordPress doesn’t like the idea of a “4.5” in my numerical listing, so you’ll have to forgive the wonky formatting!

Charles Todd is actually a mother/son writing team best known for their Ian Rutledge series, which I have never gotten around to reading.  Bess Crawford is their newer series, which centers around a World War I nurse (Bess Crawford) and various mysteries in which she finds herself entangled.  While the mystery aspect is done well in each book, the real charm of the series is in the excellent sense of setting and place.  World War I often gets rather overlooked, so reading a series with it as a backdrop has been quite intriguing.

Bess grew up (an only child) in India, with her military father (whom she and her mother fondly refer to as the Colonel Sahib) and her mother.  I love the fact that Bess has both of her parents, they are both kind, hardworking, loving people, and that her parents love Bess and love each other.  They’re supportive without being pushy, worried without being controlling.  Being a nurse is still a slightly questionable occupation for a well-brought-up young woman, but instead of following the well-worn, boring trail of having the main character rebel against her upbringing blah blah blah, here we have a refreshing scenario where Bess’s parents are thrilled – mainly because they know it’s dangerous – but recognize the need for nurses and Bess’s skill in that area, and thus support her decision.

Bess herself is a very likable character.  She’s intelligent and independent without being obnoxious.  She works hard and loves being a nurse, but isn’t constantly raging about the restrictions society places on females.  She’s determined and can be a bit bull-headed, but isn’t constantly dashing into danger and then getting annoyed when people don’t trust her.  In short, she felt realistic to me, and it was genuinely delightful to read a series where I wasn’t constantly being preached at about the patriarchy and how hard life was as a woman in the early 1900’s.

For the most part, the mysteries fit into the context of the war, and so it doesn’t feel unnatural for someone wholly unrelated to law enforcement to be stumbling across murders and suspicious circumstances.  With the exception of  An Unmarked Grave, which depended far too much on coincidence, the mysteries were well-plotted and engaging.

One thing I also enjoyed is how free of profanity and sex the stories are.  The authors don’t pretend like these things didn’t exist at the time, but the truth is that this was an era when swearing around women was still rather taboo.  And Bess is too well-brought-up, too busy, and too practical to think about sleeping around.  It is such a relief to enjoy some mysteries without constantly being hammered with f-bombs and gratuitous sex.

The Walnut Tree  isn’t about Bess Crawford, but instead is a side story that focuses on another nurse Bess knows, and about this girl’s journey to becoming a nurse.  It was definitely the weakest of all the stories.  It isn’t a mystery, but instead more of a “romance” with an incredibly boring love triangle.  There was this strange side plot about smugglers that I thought was going to be somewhat central, but instead felt tacked on, as though the authors felt that even a side book in a mystery series ought to have some mystery.  Also, while all the other characters became known by just their first names, every time Bess appeared it was as “Bess Crawford,” as though to emphasize the reminder that this book is connected to the Bess Crawford series.  So it would be something like, “I was so happy to see Bess Crawford and Diane sit down at the table with me.  Diane said she had been busy catching up on correspondence that afternoon, while Bess Crawford had gone out to do some shopping.”  I was so tired of seeing BESS CRAWFORD!

Anyway, while I’ve spent some time grumbling here, the truth of the matter is that these have been thoroughly enjoyable books, with the series getting 4* so far.  I have the second half of the series checked out of the library and ready to read, and I’m quite looking forward to picking up Bess’s journey.

From the Archive: ‘George, Nicolas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I’

So I was thinking the other day about how I used to blog on Tumblr, and how there are a lot of good books over there that none of you have ever read.  I’ll be posting a few every month, just some highlights.  :-D

This was actually my first book review I ever posted online anywhere!  It was originally published on tumblr December 1, 2011.

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by Miranda Carter

published 2009

It’s ironic that this is my first book to review here.  I’ve been reading George, Nicolas, & Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins & the Road to World War I for probably close to a month now.

The book is over 400 pages long and intensely dense.  It’s full of rambling stories and random quotes from letters and telegrams and speeches and journals.  The book constantly introduces new characters with complicated names and titles.  Just attempting to even vaguely understand the way that all the royals in Europe were related at the turn of the 20th century is ridiculously involved.

I really, really enjoyed this book.

First off, the year in Tapestry that I am using as a base history study focuses on the 1900’s.  I realized that I don’t actually know a lot about the 1900’s, not even the 1900’s in which I was alive.  (Really…  Reagan was president when I was born…  there were a couple of wars…  cell phones became really common…  ummm…)  So I jumped in and started reading and Week 3 of Tapestry is already hitting World War I and I realized I was just going too fast, because I really didn’t understand ::why:: World War I was happening.

(As a sidenote, you’ll have to realize that when I immerse myself in a time period to study, that time period becomes way more relevant to my life than current events.  I have only the vaguest ideas of what is going on in England, Germany, or Russia right now, but, by golly, I have been deeply entangled in the politics of 1905!)

This book starts with the acknowledgement that King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicolas of Russia are all first cousins, all grandsons of Queen Victoria.  When Nicolas would visit England, he and George were confused for each other!  The family ties ran deeply, and it was utterly fascinating to watch the way that the lives of these three very powerful men intertwined and led to World War I.

Honestly, I could go on at length about this.  But I’ll try to remain concise and simply say that I was blown away at how World War I was about virtually::nothing::.  At the end of the war, “eight and a half  million soldiers were dead … and at least another million or so civilians … a further 21 million soldiers had been wounded.”  The state of Virginia has around eight million residents.  Imagine the entire state being wiped out, and then the entire population of Texas  being injured.  The casualties in this war were monumental (not to belittle the current efforts in the Middle East, but honestly, the total deaths in this entire war have tallied up to a remarkably awesome DAY in World War I) and the gains almost nonexistent.  All of those millions died for basically nothing.  Absolutely mind-blowing.

Ennywho, getting ready to roll into some more details of World War I, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, reading this book actually led me to several other questions, especially about the British Empire: seriously, what is up with the histories of India, Ireland, and Canada?  So some “brief histories” are on the stacks now, to hopefully continue to weave together a solid background for World War I, and then World War II.

All in all, I would strongly recommend this book, but only if you have a lot of spare time and a deep interest in European affairs around 1900.  :-D

The War That Ended Peace

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by Margaret MacMillan

Published 2013

So, I don’t know that any of you have been following me since I first started this book blog (originally on tumblr) back in December 2011, but the very first book I ever reviewed online was called George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.  At the time, I had realized that my 20th century history was incredibly weak, and was determined to do an independent study on the subject.  Using Tapestry of Grace as a general outline for reading material, I jumped right in.  But, per usual, I found myself getting bogged down with questions.  By Week 3 of Tapestry, I was already supposed to be blowing through World War I, but I had no idea why World War I was happening.  I stumbled across the George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm book and decided to give it a whirl, and it was fantastic.  The problem is, that was in 2011, and I’m still only partway through World War II.  THEN FictionFan published a review of The War That Ended Peace.  Despite all my reading on World War II, the first World War is the one that’s continued to hold my fascination, and I couldn’t resist what sounded like an amazing read, even if it did mean spending almost 700 pages going backward on my history timeline.

This book was well-worth the effort.  As an American, I always greatly appreciate reading world history books written by non-Americans, especially covering a topic wherein the Americans were (per usual) rather late on the scene.  MacMillan takes a gigantic topic and makes it incredibly readable.  The book flows well, and the writing was excellent.  I also loved the fact that the pictures/photographs were scattered throughout the text instead of in clumps of pages here and there (this  means the pictures aren’t on the traditional glossy paper, but that’s okay with me), because it really helped to break the text up a bit, aiding in the ease-of-reading.

In a way, this covered a lot of the territory I’d read in the Royal Cousins book, but the perspective is different enough to make this read just as interesting for me.  MacMillan makes an effort to draw some parallels between the ramp-up to WWI and current events.  Most of the time this was interesting, although sometimes it felt almost too random – I’d be right in the thick of a narrative from 1907 and all of the sudden, “very similar to China in 2011” or something, and it was a bit jarring.

Overall, though, I highly recommend this book.  For the amount of information that it covers, it is remarkably easy to read.  Frequently, non-fiction books involve far too many people, but MacMillan makes them interesting enough that they are memorable, and she reminds the reader of who someone is if it’s been too long since he was last mentioned, which I appreciate.  (It can be very frustrating when an author expects me to remember who “Copenhagen” is when I haven’t heard from Copenhagen in 173 pages.)

I will say that one of the things that really struck me was how, relatively, a very small number of people  made the decisions that started the war – millions of people die, and for what?  Did normal, every-day Germans really want more territory?  Or were they just interested in growing some food, going to work, raising their children, living their lives?  So often, history books use country’s names as though they are people – Germany did this, Belgium thought this, France wanted this.  But the truth is, it’s a few leaders of each of those countries who are doing, thinking, and wanting: I truly believe that what most of the people want is simply to be left alone to live their lives in peace.

One of the reasons that this book was so intriguing was because, besides the obvious parallels that MacMillan specifically mentions, there are plenty of times where it is easy to see similar things that are happening around the world today.  The quote “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” seems particularly apt when reading about World War I and its seemingly arbitrary causes.  Sometimes, when the circumstances are just right, it doesn’t take much to start a war.