Monday, June 10, 2013

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

First Sentence:  The letter came for Lieutenant and Mrs. Standish on an afternoon when the heat was at its height, and we had already retired indoors to rest until the evening.
 As a child, Bess Crawford lived with her family in India where her father served as a regimental colonel.  A sense of dishonor was borne by the regiment when one of his officers, Lieutenant Wade, was accused of murdering his parents and three others while on leave in England.  He escaped back to India, disappeared, and was believed dead, before he could be brought to trial.  Ten years later, Bess is serving as a nurse on the front lines, a dying Indian ambulance driver recognized her and said he had seen Lt. Wade.  Knowing how painful the incident had been for her father at the time, Bess starts doing a bit of investigation; first to see whether Wade really is alive, and then to find out what really happened as her findings about him conflict with the supposed events.
 Normally, prologues seem disconnected and a bit annoying.  Not the case here.  This prologue was interesting, well-written and critical to the subsequent story.  It not only presents the characters and establishes their history, but it is a wonderful contrast in setting to that which follows.
The Todds’ have a wonderful way of introducing their characters.  Bess is capable, smart, understanding and independent.  However, she is also true to her period as she knows her actions could reflect on her parents, who are well known within her circle.  Simon, a regimental sergeant-major and aide to Beth’s father, is someone she’s known all of her life.  He is there to help her and protect her; not because she is weak and needful, but because it is appropriate in her position.  He is an intriguing character, about whose history we learn a bit as the story progresses, as is the Aussie Sergeant Larrimar, introduced in a previous book but makes a cameo appearance here.  Larrimar is someone you’d definitely want as a best friend or big brother.  I also very much appreciate that when actual historical figures are included, it is done in a realistic way.
The level of research done by the Todds’ is very apparent.  To say they create a strong sense of time and place would be an understatement.  We experience the numerous trips Bess makes between the front lines, field hospitals, taking patients back to England, and having break time in London and at home.  You feel her exhaustion and wonder at the sense of contrast between being in the trenches and being in a lovely English village.  What is interesting in their writing style is that, perhaps due to the voice being first person, it is not florid or emotional, but realistic and informative.  They neither sugar coat nor make the scenes horrendously brutal, yet all the emotion is there.  “…I dealt every day with life and death.  I’d watched men die who would have given everything they owned to live one more week, one more month, one more year. … It was heartbreaking, it was real, it was impossible sometimes to forget.”
Odd as it sounds, the Todds’ have, in Bess, created a character I respect.  She doesn’t make assumptions or fly blindly off, but takes time, requests help when needed, and searches out answers carefully and intelligently.  Better yet, she, and they, take you along, step-by-step through the investigation.  It makes the journey very satisfying, but not at all without suspense along the way.
“A Question of Honor” is a very good book; possibly my favorite in the series, so far.  That’s saying a lot for a series I’ve liked better with each new book.

A QUESTION OF HONOR (Hist Mys-Bess Crawford-France/England-1918) – VG
Todd, Charles – 5th in series
Wm. Morrow, 2013

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