Book Review: Charles Todd’s A Bitter Truth

Posted September 29, 2011 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 Bitter Truth

A Bitter Truth


Charles Todd

historical mystery in Hardcover edition that was published by William Morrow on August 30, 2011 and has 352 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include An Impartial Witness, A Lonely Death, The Confession, An Unmarked Grave, The Walnut Tree, Proof of Guilt, A Question of Honor, 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

Third in the Bess Crawford historical mystery series revolving around a nursing sister posted on the 1917 French frontlines during World War I. At least, she’s on the frontlines most of the time. It’s safer for England as it seems that every time Bess gets leave she gets involved in a murder.

My Take

I do enjoy Todd’s World War I series with Bess and her support staff. Todd really brings the nastiness of the field hospitals home, and it’s rather different reading this more homey perspective on how war affects families and children. Another part of the enjoyment I get from Todd’s work is his portrayal of the manners and expected discretion of the upper classes. Things must be done just so, and it’s intriguing to “listen” to Bess justify her decisions as to what she will and will not say to Inspector Rother.

The one thing I really don’t understand in this story is the obsession the entire Ellis family has with the dead Juliana. She died of a mastoid tumor when she was six, and all these people are still traumatized by it. Get over it!!! It’s been, what, better than twenty years??

Todd spins a good story with so many possibilities and an absolute talent for drawing characters with personality. Although, I wouldn’t have minded if he’d left off some of Lydia Ellis’ personality…lord, I thought she’d drive me nuts. The woman has no sense of thinking anything over. She gets a notion and immediately must act on it no matter how stupid the idea.

It’s multiple murders and a side bar of intense marital discord.

The Story

Arriving home from the train station on leave, Bess encounters a freezing and beaten woman on her doorstep, Lydia Ellis. Inviting her inside, Bess gets drawn into her family traumas, as the Ellis family and close friends are gathering at Vixen Hill for a memorial service for the eldest brother.

The entire family has been mourning the death of Roger Ellis’ little sister for some twenty years now and, in his cups, George lets drop that he’s seen Roger’s daughter in an orphanage in France — the spitting image of the adored Juliana. And Lydia on the verge of running away…again.

The Characters

Bess Crawford is a young woman with a strong sense of duty. So when the war started, Bess wanted to help. That sense of helping is what usually gets her involved in the mysteries. Colonel “Colonel Sahib” Crawford and her mother are very tolerant, caring parents who are very supportive of their daughter’s efforts for the war and for others.

Simon Brandon, a retired Sergeant Major, who has served Colonel Crawford for years both before and after retirement. I suspect neither Simon nor the Colonel are truly retired as they are often called up for missions by the War Office. Simon spends a lot of time looking after Bess when she’s home on leave, viewing Bess as a much-loved younger sister while Bess treats him like a safe and reliable older brother.

Sergeant Larimore is an Australian soldier and a good mimic. He cares greatly for his men and has more energy than God as Bess learns to her eventual distress. I also suspect that Bess will be seeing quite a lot of him in the next story in the series.

Lydia Ellis ran away from her home in the country, Vixen Hill, next door to Ashdown Forest, after her husband, Roger, struck her. A captain in the army, Roger is home on compassionate leave for the death of his older brother, Alan, from his war wounds. It’s a job lot at Vixen Hill with Roger’s mother and grandmother still around — granny certainly rules the roost! Since it’s Alan’s memorial, Roger’s sister, Margaret, and her husband, Henry, are also there along with a old family friend, George Hughes.

The Cover and Title

It’s a unique cover in which we peek through the enlarged, curlicue of a wrought iron gate at a woman in evening dress, her back to us in a softened depth of field.

The title is certainly accurate for a number of people: Roger Ellis, his mother, his wife, the gossipy doctor…