28 May 2012

Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

An Impartial Witness
Charles Todd
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Audiobooks America 2010

As a librarian, my list of "must reads" is always longer than Crystal Gale's hair, so it's rare for me to just grab a book at the library.  However, two weeks ago I had to make an emergency trip to Denver, and none of my requested audio books were in yet, so I decided to pick one off the shelf.  Two things happened: one, I perused books on the shelf and chose a book based on cover art and the short summaries you find either on the back or on the inside of the dust jacket.  I'll explore this topic in more depth later.  Two, I found a great book by an author I'd never heard of that I really enjoyed.
The book I chose was An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd.  It's a Bess Crawford mystery, and now that I've finished it, I know that there are actually multiple books in the series, and An Impartial Witness is the second of the series, and the newest of the series will be out next week.  The Bess Crawford mysteries are historical mysteries, set in England during World War I. Bess is a very strong female - she's a field nurse for the military and she was an "army brat" of sorts, growing up in India where her father was a high-ranking officer (I can't ever keep military ranks straight, and since I listened to the audio book, there's no way I'm going to figure out his rank, sorry) in the British military. In all of the mysteries, Bess doesn't go looking for trouble, but she definitely doesn't know how to leave trouble alone once it finds her - a fact that is eluded to often in An Impartial Witness.
The book starts out with Bess treating a severely burned pilot who keeps a picture of his wife near him at all times.  After transporting the man to a hospital in England, Bess takes a train to London for a few days leave before she must return to the front.  As she's walking through the train station, she sees the woman from the photograph - the pilot's wife - but this woman is utterly despondent as she bids farewell to a different soldier.  A few weeks later, Bess finds out that the woman was brutally murdered later on that same day.  When Bess volunteers to help Scotland Yard with the investigation, she's caught up in the mystery and nearly gets herself killed a few times.
I loved that the book had a historical element to it that added to the "intrigue", however on the same note, I'm not too sure of the historical accuracy of the book.  For example, the book takes place in 1917, and Bess has her own motorcar that she drives around like it's no big deal.  That seems odd to me - but I wasn't alive in 1917, so maybe women were driving quite a bit back then.  Also, I love that Todd has created a very strong female character who doesn't back down just because she's a female, but I was surprised at the fact that no one objected to her nosing around all the time.  In the end, the flaws didn't outweigh the enjoyment I had listening to the book - Rosalyn Landor did a great job with voices and keeping the pace quick enough so that it wasn't boring.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mysteries and strong female characters, but I wouldn't recommend it to readers who are particular about details.  There's nothing terribly risque in the novel, so it could be HS appropriate, but the historical references and vocabulary would make it difficult for a reluctant reader or MS reader to follow.

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