Review: A Bitter Truth

A Bitter Truth

by Charles Todd

Reviewed by Judith Reveal | Released August 30, 2011

Publisher: William Morrow (352 pages)

When Sister Bess Crawford, a nurse stationed in France in World War I, returns to her home in London at Christmas, she is looking forward to a well-deserved rest and time with her family. Her plans are drastically changed when she finds a young woman crouching on her doorstep, terrified from having been abused. Against her better judgment, Bess takes the woman in, and through gentle needling, learns that the woman, who refers to herself as Lydia, has run away from her husband and her home in the country. 

Lydia convinces Bess to accompany her to Vixen Hill, her family estate; Bess reluctantly agrees. Bess alerts her own family, and family friend, Simon Brandon—who keeps a close eye on her from a distance—where she plans to go. Bess’s compassion for the downtrodden quickly takes hold of her so that over the course of time she finds herself drawn into Lydia’s dysfunctional family—one that has way too many secrets.

At Vixen Hill, Bess learns more about the family secrets—especially about the deaths of Julianna, the young sister of Lydia’s husband, Roger; and more recently, Lydia’s brother-in-law, who apparently succumbed to injuries sustained in the war. When a family guest confronts Lydia’s husband about seeing a child in France—one whose resemblance to the dead Julianna, is remarkable—Lydia is overcome with jealousy and an unquenchable desire to find the child and bring her home to Vixen Hill.  

But before that can happen, bodies start dropping everywhere. The family friend who confronted Roger; a blind war veteran whom Lydia had cared for; and the town doctor—all meet a violent death. It is up to Bess, with Simon’s help, to unravel the mystery and find the thread that ties them all together. At the same time, she must track down the elusive child and determine if, indeed, this is an illegitimate child of Lydia’s husband.

Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, has woven a clever story that is steeped in World War I English history. Narrating in the first person, Bess is a strong, yet compassionate character, one who is not taken aback by what she sees or hears—no matter how shocking to the senses— sensing instead the depth of this family’s tragedies. In addition, Bess is smart enough to piece together the clues and bring them to light so the real criminal faces justice long deserved.

Charles Todd has developed believable characters that carry along this story with lightning speed from the first page to the last. Long after A Bitter Truth has been completed, Bess remains with the reader—a sure sign of solid character development.

One of Charles Todd’s strengths is the clear descriptive writing, especially establishing a dark and eerie mood by taking the reader through the cold winter in the bleak country south of London where even the brightest Christmas decorations pale in the chill winter weather to the dark, wet countryside. Just one title in a series of Bess Crawford mysteries, A Bitter Truth is a definite keeper.

This book review was prepared for the New York Journal of Books and is reprinted with their permission. Please visit their website: www.nyjournalofbooks.com for a complete listing of book reviews.

Reviewer: Judy Reveal lives in Maryland. She is the author of Around Greensboro and the Lindsey Gale Mystery series including Cheating Death, The Music Room, A House to Kill For, and historical fiction (2013) The Brownstone.

© Roy Bartels 2012