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by Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
352 pages
ISBN: 0062015702

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Home on leave from France, nurse Bess Crawford wants nothing more than to get to her flat, get a good night's sleep, and head for a Christmas at home with her family. Her plans go awry when she finds a woman on her doorstep, a woman whose clothes indicate that she is well bred, a woman with an obvious bruise on her face. Bess simply can't leave her outside to freeze. So she takes her upstairs, just for the night.

Who doesn't know what happens when one feeds a stray animal? It becomes yours, at least for a little while. So Lydia Ellis and her troubles become Bess's. This involves a trip to Sussex, a search for a murderer, another search for an illegitimate child lost somewhere in France, and so on. No good deed goes unpunished.

The Ellis family is troubled. One of the sons has been killed in the War, leaving no children. Roger Ellis, husband to Lydia, is home on leave and headed back to the front shortly. A sister, Juliana, died young and is revered by all. Someone, not family, mentions that they've seen a child in France who resembles Juliana to an uncanny degree. Then a family friend, at least of Lydia's, is killed.

Bess's decisions to investigate both the murder and the child is frowned upon by her family. She perseveres; she is a very independent person. The hunt takes months, a fact not easily conveyed by the novel. Finding the killer is not an easy task either, and not done quickly.

It is only relatively recently that society as a whole began to take notice, much less discuss, the abused women among us. Bess does what little she can in a society that much preferred to sweep this sort of thing under the rug. Bess is also aware that her standing in society is what permits her to do the little that she can, both for Lydia and for the child in France. She does have some help, crucial help, in that matter from an Australian who is truly a character.

Todd manages to bring that social agenda into Bess's life without making it the entire focus of A BITTER TRUTH. The truly fortuitous nature of finding a child in the middle of a war is brought home quite nicely. Bess has much less to do with the finding of the killer; that owes much more to chance than to detection. A BITTER TRUTH is the third in the Crawford series. Bess continues to grow and become more aware of herself and her role in society as the story arc continues. A BITTER TRUTH moves right along, and takes the reader on an absorbing ride.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, September 2011

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