A Duty to the Dead & An Impartial Witness-Charles Todd

I started Maisie Dobbs, but the library I’m at the most doesn’t have the second book. I remembered that Jess had recommended the Bess Crawford books recently, so I picked up the first one.

In general, I like historical mysteries, so these two had that going for them from the beginning. Also, I’ve been a bit passionate about WWI since high school, when we read the war poets.

The Bess Crawford books, so far, take place during the war rather than after it (as with Maisie Dobbs). This fact adds a sense of tension. In traditional mysteries, the detective saves one or more innocent suspects from wrongful accusation. Here, Bess might save them, but if they’re in the Army, they’ll be going back to France. There are no guarantees that anyone will survive. There are no guarantees that witnesses will still be alive when they’re called on to give their testimony.

Although I want to evaluate each series on its own merits, it’s almost impossible not to compare them. So far, I think I’m liking Bess a bit more. (I’m reading Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs book, right now.) I’m finding that Bess’s world makes more sense to me. I want to like Maisie, and I do like her character (spunky girl detective), but some of the details I have a hard time accepting. Bess is also interesting in that she doesn’t set herself up to be a detective. This may mean that eventually I get annoyed with the way mysteries just fall into her lap, but for now I find it a bit refreshing.

This isn’t to say that the series is without its confusing points. For instance, everyone seems to be going back and forth to France all the time. Now, this may actually be completely historically accurate (when I think about it, it seems quite likely), but an author’s note or some other way of pointing to the historical record would ease my mind.

I’m also completely confused about Simon Brandon and his role. He’s the Colonel’s former batman and he’s not in love with Bess’s mother. That seems to be all we definitely know, besides the fact that he’s clearly a major part of the Crawford household. So…is he in love with the Colonel? If so, the hint is WAY too subtle for me. Or is he meant to be a bit in love with Bess? A moment at the end of Impartial Witness kind of hints at that, but again, the hints are way too subtle. Hopefully this will get cleared up in future books.

Finally, I read the second book late at night and I was tired, so this may account for it to some extent, but I found that Bess’s involvement and detection was so much less personal than in the first book. This makes sense, but at the same time, it lowered the stakes a bit and made it a tad less engaging.

All in all, though, these two books are excellent examples of historical mysteries, with the added suspense of the wartime setting (they remind me a bit of “Foyle’s War” in that way).

Book source: public library
Book information: William Morrow (AHAHAHAHAHA)*, 2009 and 2010; adult historical mystery

* If you’re confused.

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2 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

2 responses to “A Duty to the Dead & An Impartial Witness-Charles Todd

  1. It is hard to avoid comparing the two series, isn’t it? I think the characters ring true emotionally for me in the Bess books a bit more than in the Maisie books. And I agree that more context info in an author’s note would be nice. On the issue of characters traveling back and forth so much – this surprised me a little, but it’s such a big part of the story (especially in the second book) that I assumed it must be true. It occurred to me that with American historical fiction set during the wars (with American characters, that is) the distance is HUGE from home to the front – there’s no way for them to take leave and head home for a week. But for English characters, it’s barely any distance at all. I found myself needing to adjust my sense of distance.

    About Simon – I assumed he was set up to be an eventual love-interest for Bess – the guy who’s always been around but she’s never considered romantically. It feels a little cliched and I’d be happy to be wrong, but she keeps getting into situations where people think she’s in love with some other guy (even though we know she isn’t) and Simon always seems to be there in the background. It actually never occurred to me that he could be in love with anyone else…

    Oh man, I want the book equivalent of Foyle’s War – that would be excellent.

    • Maureen E

      The characters thing is what draws me to Bess. Actually, I just believe the whole world and set up a little bit more. I don’t necessarily think the traveling is a problem–it’s more that I stopped and realized that for them it would actually be possible. And make the whole thing more awful, in some ways.

      I’m hoping that’s the case, but as I said above, the vagueness of the hints was such that I got confused. Less hinting, more action!

      That would be fantastic! I love Foyle’s War, though I’m not quite so crazy about the latest series (the post-war ones). They retconned Andrew out, for one thing, which is just not okay.

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