“The burn victim, swathed in bandages…was frightful to see, his skin still raw and weeping, his eyes his only recognizable feature. I knew and he knew that in spite of all his doctors could do, it would never be enough. The face he’d once had was gone, and in its place would be something that frightened children and made women flinch….he had a framed photograph of his wife pinned to his tunic, and it was what kept him alive, not our care.”
Bess Crawford has just escorted more of the wounded and maimed to England from the battlefields of France. She has a few hours in London before having to return to the battle field hospital and all she wants is to sleep. As she walks through the train station, she notices a woman crying inconsolably, a man in uniform standing near her but not comforting her. As Bess walks by, the woman lifts her head and Bess knows, without question that the woman is the wife of Lieutenant Meriwether Evanson, the burn victim. She has seen that picture too often not to be certain of the woman’s identity. Bess watches the man board the train without a backward glance. The woman, still crying, hurries from the station. Bess tries to follow her but she disappears into the crowd.
Back in France, Bess sees a pen-and-ink drawing of a woman with the caption, “Police Ask for Witnesses – Evanson Murder Still Unsolved.” Bess sends a letter to Scotland Yard and is most surprised to be sent back to England for an interview with Inspector Herbert. She might not have seen much but she is the only person to have come forward with any information. Before she returns to France, she decides to visit Lieutenant Evanson; when she arrives at the hospital, she is told that the lieutenant had killed himself six days earlier. He had been despondent since learning of his wife’s murder.
Bess returns to France and seems to be granted an inordinate amount of leave for a nurse working on the front lines of battle. This allows her to visit many people, new friends and old, so she can find the man with the Wiltshire Regiment badge, whose face she didn’t see clearly, at the train station with Marjorie Evanson just before she was killed.
The body count rises as more deaths of young officers recuperating near London are reported. Then another woman is attacked in the same manner as Majorie Evanson. Who knew both women well enough to want them dead?
I enjoyed this book more than the first Bess Crawford, A DUTY TO THE DEAD. AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS could have had the length shortened a good bit if the authors eliminated some of the characters who make very brief appearances. The authors people the story with army officers but, for most, they give so little detail that it is difficult to find a personality that would make them memorable or help separate one from another.
The Ian Rutledge series suits me much better. Rutledge is a damaged man doing a serious job in a society that has changed drastically since the end of the war. Bess is a nurse working on the battle fields of France but without that commitment, she would be just another middle class woman spending her time in socially acceptable ways until marriage. That Scotland Yard, understaffed as it would be in war time, readily includes a private citizen, and a woman, in the investigation of murder is a stretch to say the least.
The Bess Crawford series is enjoyable. The twelve books of the Ian Rutledge series cover one year. Hopefully, Bess’s experiences will be spread out as well.