Book review: ‘An Impartial Witness’ by Charles Todd

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Bess Crawford is a British Nursing Sister; the time is 1917, prior to the United States joining the First World War. When Bess escorts wounded soldiers from France to England, a severely burned pilot has his wife’s picture pinned to his tunic. The often-seen picture is the reason that Bess later recognized the women at the train station. She was involved in what was obviously a distressing conversation with a departing soldier. The soldier got on the train without looking back.

It was only happenstance when Bess found out that the woman, the injured pilot’s wife, had been murdered later the same day that Bess had witnessed the conversation. The notice in the paper had asked anyone with information to contact Scotland Yard. Bess felt obligated and complied. She also felt obligated to the dead woman to help identify her killer. Those around her felt Bess had done enough and that she should leave the rest to Scotland Yard.

As a Nursing Sister, Bess was serving in France, often near the ever-changing front. She was able to return to Britain when she was a transport nurse or when the nurses received leave while the front was being reestablished. Since she felt a personal obligation to the case, she spent most of her leave time investigating rather than with her parents. Since her father had been a legendary British officer in India, she did seek assistance from his contacts and his friend and subordinate, Simon Brandon.

The burned pilot was Lieutenant Meriweather Evanson. After his wife, Marjorie, was murdered, he didn’t think he had anything to live for and committed suicide. Bess now believed there was even more reason to identify the killer. When an autopsy established that Marjorie was pregnant with a baby that couldn’t be Evanson’s, yet another missing piece was added to the puzzle. There was more. Marjorie had a sister, Victoria, who hated her. The list of suspects kept growing. That was especially true when it was established that Michael Hart has loved Marjorie all along. Since he wasn’t the mysterious lover, could he be the murderer?

Scotland Yard was still working on the case, but the person they thought was guilty didn’t fit the information Bess was gathering. If the killer was going to be identified, something had to come together. And it seemed to when Bess found the identity of the officer at the station. But he had a solid alibi.

Bess decided that she must either find Marjorie’s sister, Victoria, guilty of the murder, or rule her out as a suspect. A night visit with her only made things more complicated, as the terms of the father’s will pitted the two sisters against one another.

Author Charles Todd was recommended to me. This is the second mystery that I’ve read, both good. Todd books are set in a different time and not in the United States. They are very popular, as you will find out if you try to get them on Libby, as I’ve been attempting to do. In any case, don’t expect to read them in order anytime soon.

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