Book Review: Charles Todd’s A Question of Honor

Posted November 3, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Charles Todd’s A Question of Honor

A Question of Honor


Charles Todd

historical mystery that was published by William Morrow on August 27, 2013 and has 320 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include An Impartial Witness, A Lonely Death, A Bitter Truth, The Confession, An Unmarked Grave, The Walnut Tree, Proof of Guilt, An Unwilling Accomplice, Hunting Shadows, A Pattern of Lies, A Fine Summer's Day, No Shred of Evidence, The Shattered Tree, Racing the Devil, A Casualty of War

Fifth in the Bess Crawford historical mystery series revolving around a young nursing sister with a tremendous sense of honor and compassion. It takes place in 1918 in the trenches and field stations of World War I in France, the English countryside, and memories of 1908 India.

In 2013, A Question of Honor won the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

My Take

This was so dissatisfying in so many ways. Depressingly sad for all the deaths, the wrongful accusations, the way the children were treated, the adults not believing them. It does make you wonder how many times this type of situation occurred… Terribly confusing in all the Petersfield people involved and how they related to the first tragedy. (You might like to keep track of the characters (below) as it does get confusing when it comes to the inhabitants of Petersfield.) Rather unbelievable with all the trips Bess kept being assigned to accompany the wounded home across the Channel; it did very conveniently give her so many opportunities to explore, poke, and prod at the past.

The extras tossed in were annoying and simply served to elongate the story. I’m thnking specifically of Janet and Rob Burke. What was the point?

It’s the Standishes’ tragedy for which the prologue provides the historical, factual, and psychological setting for this tragic mystery. It’s depressing in all its coincidences and the horrible effects on so many people.

I do like that Bess works so hard to be fair. I wish Todd had been as fair with us. That or I was singularly obtuse in picking up clues. This particular story was an odd combination of the obvious (good and bad) and the confusing with the latter possibly meant to keep the mystery intact. Todd was very good at keeping the tension alive as to the truth about the two sets of murders.

We do get some back history on Simon… That young man does intrigue me; I keep hoping he and Bess hook up. In the 1918-sense, of course.

I do appreciate the efforts that Todd goes to in helping me to see the forward stations and the trials of the medical personnel and the wounded. Intellectually, I understand how cold, tired, and hungry everyone is, but I could wish that Todd made me feel it more.

The mention of Kipling’s house, Bateman’s, brought back my own memories of the months I lived in Burwash in East Sussex. I had the best time in the village, the people were so warm and welcoming.

Anyone have any idea why the German trenches were so neat and tidy while the English ones were a disaster?

What’s the problem with Dr. Cunningham?

Not one of my favorites in this series…

The Story

A possible sighting of a dead man who has impugned the honor of the regiment sets Bess off on one of her detecting sprees with a reluctantly encouraging Simon.

The Characters

Sister Bess Crawford is an honorable and compassionate woman with the honor of the regiment always in her mind as the daughter of Colonel Sahib, Richard Crawford. She took up nursing and now serves in the trenches of World War I. She also serves, personally, as a private detective — Bess just can’t leave a mystery alone. Iris is the family maid. Melinda Crawford is some sort of relative who was widowed early in life. Rudyard Kipling, yes, the author, is a friend of Melinda’s with contacts in India. And what a sad childhood, he had…

Regimental Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon is practically family. And definitely a partner in detection with Bess and diving into secret missions with the colonel.

Lieutenant Thomas Wade is determined on justice. For himself and others. Georgina was his baby sister; Robert was an older brother. Mr. and Mrs. Wade, the parents, were murdered in India.

Back in 1908…
William and Mary Standish had sent their daughters, Rosemary and Alice, back to England for schooling with Captain and Mrs. Middleton.

Harvey Caswell, a rector, his wife, Isabella, and their daughter, Gwedolyn, all died on the same day at their house, The Willows, just outside Petersfield. Miss Phyllis Grant was the unhappy governess. Mabel Gooding was the nursery maid so good at caring for the children. Mr. Melvin was the drunken tutor.

Some of the children included…
George Mayfield died from a fall; Joshua Bingham was the runaway; the limping Sandy Hughes; and, Hazel Sheridan who is now Lady Campbell. Barney Lowell is now [1918] the sexton and owns the local nursery.

Today, in 1918…
Reverend Gates, a military chaplain, inherited the house through his uncle who had inherited it when the Caswells were murdered. Miss Seavers, a cousin, is currently the housekeeper at the Willows. Corporal Walter Caswell is one of the sappers. Dr. Collins is the doctor in the village.

Mrs. Hennessey is the landlady of the boarding house in London where Bess stays, when she’s there. Dr. Gaines is in charge of Longleigh House, a clinic in Medford Longleigh. Princess Mary is active in cheering up the soldiers. Marianne Thorndyke knows all the gossip. Mr. Gessler is the retired photographer in Winchester who lived with his daughter.

Fellow nursing sisters include:
Sisters Burke (her married brother, Rob, has problems at home with his now-pregnant wife, Janet — it’s not his), Hadley, Morgan, Molly Fullerton whose family lives down the road from Petersfield, Emery is celebrating her birthday, Lee, MacLeod, Bennett, and Higgins.

Teddy Belmont is a conscientious objector who drives the ambulance. Dr. Cunningham is having difficulty adjusting to battlefield medical operations. Subedar Shanti Gupta of Agra is an Indian Sergeant who can only speak Hindi at the end. Sergeant Larimore, the Australian soldier, pops up protectively. Claudette Miniere is struggling in Rouen to support herself and her sick aunt.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a curiosity with its Indian-inspired print border on the left and Bess in her pale grey suit with lace insets as she stares back over the shimmering blue waters at an Indian palace. It’s a pretty combination of blues and orange, although the red of the author’s name is a bit jarring.

The title is what it’s all about, A Question of Honor. Only there are so many types of honor in question here.