Wednesday, September 8, 2010

book review: An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery 
The backstory: I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Todd's first Bess Crawford novel, A Duty to the Dead (my review), so I was eager to read the second mystery in this series.

The basics: An Impartial Witness is once again narrated by British World War I Army nurse Bess Crawford, a delightfully independent, intelligent, feminist woman. Granted, Bess is developing quite a habit of finding herself in the midst of murder investigations, but she's relatively smart about it.

My thoughts: Simply put, I enjoyed this novel even more than the first one. It's also refreshing to discover a mystery series that doesn't need to be read in order. There are a few mentions to the Britanic sinking, but the other events from the first novel (the mystery parts) aren't alluded to. The family and friends of Bess return, but their brief descriptions are helpful reminders for readers of the first book and adequate descriptions for those new to the series. Bottom line: it doesn't matter if you've read A Duty to the Dead or not.

Overall, this novel was well-written and engaging. Bess is a delightful character. She pushes the boundaries of convention for her time, but she acts with dignity and within the boundaries of social conventions and manners. It can be difficult to place independent, head-strong women in historical fiction, but Charles Todd (a mother and son writing team) do so quite well and rather believably. As is often the case with mystery novels featuring a main character who is not a detective, the reader must allow for a certain amount of leeway. There were a few too many coincidences early on, but allowing these provided many delightful twists and turns throughout the novel. I was willing to overlook the number of times Bess happened to run into people who provided her with pertinent information Scotland Yard overlooked because it made the novel more enjoyable.

The writing is both in cadence of the time (or it is to my eyes) and immensely readable. Bess, our wonderful narrator, has a way with language I loved:
"Which is how I found myself on a crowded train to Oxfordshire, with malice aforethought."
I finished this novel in a day, and I quite enjoyed it. It's not page-turning suspenseful until the last fifty pages, but it was just so interesting, I wanted to keep reading it.

The verdict: Bess Armstrong is a wonderful historical mystery character, and this novel will appeal to historical fiction and mystery lovers alike. I will eagerly await the third novel in this series, but in the meantime, I hope to read Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series too.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 344 pages
Publication date: September 1, 2010
Source: I received this book from the publisher for review.

Have you read Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series? Are there other historical mystery novels you recommend?

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  1. This sounds like a great series that I will have to investigate! As for historical mysteries, I am reading The Mistress of the Art of Death series right now, and am loving them. They are very gritty and dark, but they also have an unconventional female investigator in them. Great books. If you can get your hands on them, I do recommend them. The First is Mistress of the Art of Death, the second is called The Serpent's Tale.

  2. @Zibilee Thanks for the tip - I'll pick up the first at my library. I'm glad to see there aren't too many in the series thus far! I hope you enjoy the Bess Crawford series too!

  3. I'm not exactly sure how I found your blog, but I think it was just a matter of a click here, a click there and I arrived. :) Anyway, I'll have to spend more time perusing it, but wanted to comment about historical mysteries. Have you read the series by Jacqueline Winspears? The main character's name is Maisie Dobbs and is the title of the first book. I adore the series.

    I have the first book in Todd's series on my iPod. I've passed it by many times. Maybe I shouldn't the next time it catches my eye.


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