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A CASUALTY OF WAR
by Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2017
400 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 0062678787


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Bess Crawford is waiting for her transportation back to her unit when she meets Captain Alan Travis. He's a personable young man from Barbados and they enjoy a pleasant conversation in the middle of the war, a war they both hope is winding down. Not too much later, he is brought into her hospital, wounded. He claims he wasn't shot by a German but by someone on "our" side; it's a minor head wound and he is absolutely sure he didn't imagine the whole thing. He is treated, sent back to a real hospital for observation, and then returns to the front. He is wounded again, and he says it's the same person who shot him the first time. He believes it is a distant relative of his, one of the English branch of the family. For a number of reasons, all completely likely in wartime, he is returned to England and sent to a hospital for mental patients. Bess, home on leave, goes to visit him and is appalled at his condition. She vows to get him out of the dreadful place.

This involves traipsing all over England in a fairly short period of time. Willing suspension of disbelief is important at this point, as gasoline rationing must surely still have been in effect, and Bess has no trouble whatsoever driving (or being driven) all over the countryside. Her parents are remarkably willing to give her free rein, especially considering all of this means she is not spending her leave with them. Everywhere she goes, she ends up with more questions than answers.

The solution, when Bess finally figures it out, makes perfect sense although the clues are deftly placed and not easy to find on first reading. The young woman with "the sight" seems a little bit more deus ex machina than one might expect from Todd, and yet it is completely in keeping with the beliefs held by people (not just in small villages) at that time.

Todd has a great grasp of characters and motivations. It's difficult to know, looking backward, just how accurate the historical details are; the feelings, however, ring true. Bess has grown since the beginning of the series (this is the ninth Bess Crawford novel). One can believe that her mother is reluctant to let her go on this journey, and also that her mother is all too aware that once Bess has her mind set on something, it would take a major force to change her mind. The war has changed Bess, as it has changed everyone in her life as well. It is not just the physically wounded or dead who are casualties; Todd ably demonstrates that in this novel.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs. My Sherlockian (BSI) nom-de-plume is VR; my license plate is BSI VR

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, July 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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