An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

impartialI don’t usually review a Book 2 in a series, but I wanted to write about this one because I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first. I love a good historical mystery, and Bess Crawford is a strong character as a British World War I nurse serving in France.

The first book begins with Bess struggling to survive on a sinking ship. She’s sent home with a broken arm to recover, and her leave turns into a mystery regarding a message from a dying soldier she promised to deliver. I thoroughly enjoyed not only the complexity of the mystery, but more importantly, Bess’ strength as a character.

This book didn’t have that for me. First of all, Bess spends way too much of the book leaning on her father, mother, and family friend Simon. She seems to spend most of the book running around in the dark and just occasionally having flashes of insight. She latches on to a male character, Michael, who everyone thinks is guilty only she thinks he’s not. Again and again people tell her she’s just infatuated, and she keeps insisting she’s not. It got pretty repetitive.

The mystery felt very obvious and also had very little to do with the War (which is generally why I read historical mysteries). I guessed the correct killer very early in the story – and I usually don’t.

But the real “killer” for me was the possessive, condescending way Bess is treated by her father and Simon. Yes, I know this is 1917 and of course women are treated differently. But I recall very little of that in the first book, and it drove me crazy in the second book. Simon follows her around, scolds her and tells her what to do. Her father is worse. She basically resorts to sneaking in and out of her parents’ house like a teenager (even hiding the alcohol on her breath in one scene). This is a woman who’s a respected nurse in France.

So I’m left feeling like this series won’t give me what I wanted, which is a historical mystery with the complexity of Anne Perry, the strong female characters of Deanna Raybourn, and the historical drama of C.S. Harris. I know people love Maisie Dobbs, which I’ve never read. Other suggestions?

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