Book Review: ‘A Casualty Of War’ Is A Wonderful Read But Too Long For Its Purpose

Review by Adrina Palmer

From New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd comes a haunting tale that explores the impact of World War I on all who witnessed it—officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses like Bess Crawford.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Casualty of War’ by Charles Todd. The prolific mother-son team have written eight other books in the Bess Crawford Mystery series that I have not had the opportunity to read. This ninth installment would make me willing to learn more about the compassionate main character and what other situations she has managed together herself in. The supporting characters are compelling if underdeveloped because this was book nine. I have to assume more detail was given in earlier installments and now the characters are developed enough to allow the plot to be the main focus.

While serving as a nurse during World War One, Bess Crawford runs across Captain Travis, a man from Barbados with roots in Suffolk, England. While still in France serving in the war, Captain Travis runs into Ms. Crawford twice more but now injured. Someone on the British side shot at Captain Travis, not once but twice, and he believes the person who shot him is a cousin from the estranged side of his family. With good reason, he becomes quite agitated and upset to be injured, not by the enemy or even another soldier fighting on the same side, but by a family member he has only spoken to once.

Bess is the only medical personnel willing to listen and not to assume Captain Travis is being consumed by a head injury. Before the war was over, he is put in a mental hospital and treated as a crazy man for his deranged accusations against another soldier. Bess does not give up on her new friend. When the war ends, Bess is given ten days of leave and she thinks to use her leave to look into the mystery of why James Travis would shoot his cousin the Captain. She follows the story to Suffolk, England along with long-time family friend Simon Brandon.

Once in the town of Sinclair, the duo meet with obstacles meant to help them decide to leave town. First, they manage to learn that Captain Travis was the only male heir left in the Travis family and the heir to the family fortune. But the family Matron, James’ mother, refuses to part with the family fortune at the hands of an estranged distance cousin. With the help of a solicitor, the Matron searches for other options to leave the family money to anyone other than Captain Alan Travis.

Another stranger shows up in the town with possible clues as to who the other heir could be but he manages to fall down the town hotel’s stairs and injure himself before he can provide anyone with useful information. When his body turns up dead several days later, the untrusting town believes Bess and Simon might have had a hand in his untimely demise. Neither Bess or Simon are willing to leave the town with the many mysteries unsolved. When another potential family member shows up along with Alan Travis, the mystery becomes more heated and leaves everyone grasping for information and many for their lives.

Kindhearted nurse Bess is unwilling to give up on the underdog, a wonderful attribute worthy of a novel. The entire novel is well painted. From the townspeople to the small town mystery, along with Bess and Simon, everything is well-written and easy to follow, except for what was supposed to be a mystery. The only issue I had with the novel was the length. The circular conversations, once in town, could have have been reduced by at least one hundred pages. Don’t get me wrong, the book held my attention but my eyes started to glaze over from the repetitive conversations and slow-moving plot.

Beyond the latter issue, the book moves quickly despite the drag down from the overhashed mystery. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the story because of the easy-to-read writing and the likable characters, despite the issues. The plot was simplistic and easy to figure out, except that unlike most mystery novels, the person(s) responsible for all the drama was not named in the first fifty pages. Either way, I recommend the book to those looking for a break in the British countryside, looking to have a cup of tea with a nurse who hopes to solve a mystery for her patient.

I can imagine, based on ‘A Casualty of War,’ Bess Crawford getting herself into a whole host of predicaments with her good nature and tendency to believe the best in other people. I expect this will not be the last novel in this series, especially since Bess is single in the early 1900s and the war is over. She turns down one suitor in this book, and according to what I read about the previous novels, she has turned down many other suitors. Simon seems the logical fit for both a husband and a partner in solving the crime as they work so well together, and he sounds quite attractive. He also seems to have unlimited funds, not an issue for Bess whose father was a retired high-ranking officer for the British Army, but still nice to never have to worry about how the many bills that rack up from mystery solving.

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James McDonald
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