Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Pattern of Lies (Book Review)

Title: A Pattern of Lies: a Bess Crawford Mystery
Author: Charles Todd
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover 2015, paperback 2016
Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction
Plot: Bess Crawford, a capable nurse stationed in World War I France, becomes embroiled in a mystery relating to a former patient recuperating in Kent. A tragic explosion at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill is now being blamed on Philip Ashton. While visiting the family, Bess learns of the threats made to the Ashton family and tries to assist them in understanding why they are being maliciously targeted. Back in France, Bess deftly deals with the trauma of the last months of the Great War while also trying to locate a key witness to the explosion, protect herself from a killer, and put a stop to the lies threatening her friends.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of the Maisie Dobbs (no doubt this series was inspired by its success); fans of Downton Abbey (for my other Downton-esqe recommendations, click here).

What I liked: Beautifully written and painstakingly researched, this series portrays both the harsh reality of life at the front and of the worries experienced back in the English countryside. Bess was invaluable in solving the mystery through her ability to ask questions others are unable to pose.  She is improbably mobile for a nurse stationed in France, in an era when women of her class surely did not travel alone, but I like that the author plots her travel carefully, using the exigencies of war (here, escorting wounded soldiers to England).  I also enjoy her relationship with her father, a distinguished officer, whose devotion to the army (and duty!) Bess has inherited.

I had missed a couple books in the middle of this series but it didn’t matter – these books stand on their own and one reads for the characters rather than the actual mystery. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about World War I and came across this WWI quiz as I was reading (I did well except with the chronology of WWI battles).   I am a big fan of this author(s) and enjoyed meeting them years ago at my favorite mystery bookstore, Black Orchid (now closed, sadly).
What I disliked: Bess is so perfect that she is slightly lacking in personality.  There is no hint as to her romantic feelings: does she care for Simon Brandon, her father’s former batman, now an indispensable family friend? I can’t remember and, in any case, I am sure will all be revealed in good time.

Source: I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review. Recommended! You can visit other stops on the tour to see what other bloggers thought about the seventh Bess Crawford installment:
Tuesday, April 12th: FictionZeal
Wednesday, April 13th: A Book Geek
Thursday, April 14th:
Monday, April 18th: Jayne's Books
Wednesday, April 20th: Reading is My Super Power
Wednesday, April 20th: Mel's Shelves
Thursday, April 21st: Tina Says…
Monday, April 25th: Mama Vicky Says
Wednesday, April 27th: Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Charles Todd is also the author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, set just after WWI.


Lisa said...

Her relationship with Simon just baffles me, and there doesn't seem to be much development in it. A friend and I have theorized that Simon is actually in love with her mother. Given the difference in class, I'm not sure what kind of relationship is possible, but they certainly spend a lot of time together.

Have you read the other series the authors have written? I haven't tried those yet. I very much enjoyed meeting them at a signing here at Murder By the Book.

CLM said...

I read the Ian Rutledge series first and liked it. There is another similar series about a detective haunted by WWI by an author who is not as prolific, Rennie Airth, which I recommend.

I'll have to read the Bess Crawford books I have missed and contemplate Simon. Some young women would hold his lowborn origins against him but (a) after WWI that matters less, and (b) I didn't think Bess was like that although she does indicate that Sergeant Lassiter is looking too high when he flirts with her. Of course, he has not been promoted to officer!

I did think they were very nice when I met them. I am not sure if they wanted readers to know they were a team but I don't think it has hurt them. For some reason, it works better when a pen name is used.

Sara said...

Great review - thank you! I've also wondered about Bess Crawford's considerable mobility, not to say autonomy, as an active duty nursing sister in wartime. As for Simon Brandon -- isn't he at least 15-20 years older than she is? I seem to remember that he was an NCO under her father's command in India. I will need to find & reread the prequel about that time in the Crawfords' lives.

I've started reading through the Ian Rutledge series which, like the Bess Crawford books, don't have to be read in order. They are darker, generally, and Ian suffers a great deal from what is now called PTSD. He also has had at least two unsuccessful love affairs with WW I being the main reason why neither one worked out. Nonetheless, it's always interesting to follow along as he works out the crime(s) at hand and interacts with all the locals at each scene.

Lisa said...

A friend has read these books with me (a member of the Heyer list). We've talked about what the changes after the war might mean for their relationship. We just don't see any signs that their relationship is developing. And then Bess kept meeting these other eligible young men.

I wondered too about her mobility, as you mentioned above. Simon has been helpful there and escorting her sometimes.

One of the staff people at Murder By the Book mentioned that the Todds refuse to discuss their writing process with anyone.

CLM said...

Yes, the mobility and autonomy seem a little unlikely although somewhat plausibly explained. However, it is hard having a detective who can't move about so I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I seem to recall some backlash when people first found out they were collaborators instead of a single author so perhaps that is why they won't discuss the writing process. Long ago (and briefly) when I was an editor I remember working on a book written by Linda Barlow and William Tapply, and even internally there was a lot of negativity - mostly when we were working on the cover and on the copy. My boss said the acquiring editor should have insisted they use a pseudonym.

Unknown said...

I read and reviewed this one also. Like you, I'm missing having read a few in the series. :)
@dino0726 from 
FictionZeal - Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

This era is one of my very favorite to read about - society was in such a state of flux after the war, and that makes for interesting reading for me.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!