Tuesday, August 25, 2015


    Being able to follow a character over a period of time and through different experiences enriches reading for me.  That has certainly been the case with Bess Crawford, a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.  She is the creation of the estimable mother/son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd.  They have beautifully evoked life during World War I and the people who lived through it while creating sophisticated and sometimes fun mysteries.

    A Pattern Of Lies is the seventh adventure for Bess, and it is a scorcher - both literally and figuratively.  It is the autumn of 1918 when Bess manages to secure leave to visit her parents in London.  She finds herself stuck in Canterbury waiting to board a train, but it is there that she accidentally sees a former patient, Major Mark Ashton.  When it becomes obvious that she won’t be able to find space on a train that day or satisfactory lodging he is kind enough to invite her to stay with his family at their ancestral home in Cranbourne.  She gratefully accepts only to discover that she has walked into a terrible situation.

    The Ashton family has been the object of a non-stop whispering campaign leaving them quite alone, deserted by former friends and colleagues.  It seems that some two years earlier a gunpowder factory owned and operated by the senior Ashton, Philip, exploded resulting in the deaths of some 100 men who lived in the village.  An official investigation determined the explosion was not due to any German sabotage, but then rumors began that Philip was responsible.  He is soon arrested, but even that does not stop the persecution of the Ashton family - there is everything from eggs thrown, to a fire started to burn Mrs. Ashton’s favorite chair to accusing the family dog of killing chickens - even Bess is ostracized as she strolls through Cranbourne when it is learned that she is staying at the Ashton home.

    She is stunned by the vitriol hurled at the family and determines to find out who is responsible for starting it and why.  This, of course, must be accomplished along with her duties at the front in France.  As she questions seeking answers even her life is at risk as an attempt to smother her is made at the hospital.

    The eventual solution is a tangled one and the journey there can sometime be a tad confusing but following Bess is reward enough.


    - Gail Cooke

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