[Ren] A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3) by Charles Todd

A Bitter TruthTitle: A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3)
Author: Charles Todd
Published: August 30th, 2011
Rating: 2 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

This is the third book in a series about a WWI English nurse who solves crimes. It was a huge letdown, because I liked Bess in the first book, but the plot of this book was a complete mess. It starts off as a typical cozy mystery in which someone is murdered and everyone at the manor is a suspect, but the bitter truth about this book is that you have no chance in hell to solve the mystery. The rules of fair play whodunnit are completely tossed out of the window, and in the last few chapters a secondary character appears out of the blue with a piece of information that explains the motive for the crime, which is completely different from what you’ve been led to believe up to that point and impossible to guess.

I found that really disappointing, because of all the time wasted on talking to all the other suspects and pursuing other leads. If the authors were going to make a random character the murderer, they could have spent more chapters developing the main character. Bess does a lot of, well, to be frank, she acts like a criminal. She’s complicit in the kidnapping of a young child from her caretakers, for example. One could make the case that she was trying to act in the child’s best interests and that the war made circumstances different, but to me it looked as if she has no idea what she’s doing. She hurts a lot of people out of thoughtlessness, but it’s all glossed over because she’s meant to be a good character.

Then there’s the matter of Roger, who hit his wife hard enough to give her a concussion, but that’s also forgotten when he becomes friends with Bess. I don’t know about you, Bess, but if I know a man has a history of violence, is always angry, and is a suspect in a murder inquiry, I wouldn’t want to follow him if he says he wants to talk in private. But, like everyone is fond of saying at every turn, who cares about a small disagreement between man and wife as long as the sanctity of marriage is saved. I would have accepted it if there had been some kind of commentary from Bess along the lines of “this is how people think in this day and age and it sucks but what can you do” like her interior monologue when she first saw Lydia’s bruises. But that was before meeting Roger. After she meets Roger he seems like a nice person so she conveniently neglects to think about Lydia’s concussion ever again. Plus, everyone including Lydia agrees that it’s her fault for making him mad after all.

So yeah it was a mess of a book and killed all my interest in this series with one fell swoop. I wanted to find out more about Simon Brandon and about the Australian soldier, but I prefer my mysteries (and my characters) to be a little less random. I’m afraid this is yet another series in which I’d recommend to read the first book, pretend it’s a standalone, and don’t bother about the rest.


6 thoughts on “[Ren] A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3) by Charles Todd

  1. Bless your heart, Ren, I was going to give the first book another chance (historical mystery is one of my pet genres) but you’ve saved me some time and heartache. Making excuses for any type of violence against women is high up on my list of DO NOT EVEN. I’m surprised this got published as is but I guess I shouldn’t expect anything else after seeing in A Royal Spyness series the author (Rhys Bowen) glossing over attempted rape by a then ‘sympathetic character’. Were the editors having an off day or what?

    • Urgh, I remember that scene in A Royal Spyness. I stuck with that series for two more books because I also love historical mysteries, and it was so not worth it. I’m wondering if maybe the books are aimed at older people who don’t care so much because violence against women was so prevalent in media just a few decades ago? Or maybe the editors just don’t give a flying squirrel?

      • I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one picking up on that – the reviews are so positive but it might have to do with the demographic as you say. I don’t know but it was such a ‘woa, did I read that right’ moment. The hell, seriously. It’s terrible. In the same cosy mystery genre at the beginning of the 20th century there’s Maisie Dobbs (fine, but in small doses for me, her cryptic psychological powers require a bit too much suspension of disbelief for my taste), Carola Dunn/Daisy Dalrymple series (a bit too fluffy?). There’s also Miss Fisher which while okay, isn’t a favourite of mine again because of tone (in the second or third book they tackle abortion in a very bizarre way, the writing is just weird and switches from light to dark to light). I’ve been told Caitriona MacPherson’s books are in between Maisie and Daisy so perhaps they’d suit me but so far even though the genre is one of my favs, I’m way happier with those set in the 19th century. My favourites are Tasha Alexander’s books and the India Black series (both with female sleuths and feminist friendly). Charles Finch’s books are fine but they feature a male detective and his wife or female characters in general don’t do much. I enjoy the books quite a bit because the hero is progressive and one of the novels is set in Oxford which is my happy place but the series isn’t a favourite favourite. I also like the Mary Russell series and the Amelia Peabody one but again they’re not holy grail for me, Amelia because the subject matter (Egypt) doesn’t interest me much and Mary because it’s very intellectual and like in the Holmes novel there’s a lot of action sequences while I prefer my mysteries more on the cosy/gather people in a room and expose them as opposed to chasing them through forests and shooting at them.

        Have you read any of those and/or have you got recs for historical mysteries I should check out?

        • I haven’t read Maisie Dobbs but you’re not the first person to mention it so I should add it to my TBR. Same for the other Daisy Dalrymple books, I read the first and it was okay as a fluffy read like you said, I think the problem was I couldn’t find an ebook edition but maybe I’ll have another look. I don’t think I’ll read Miss Fisher because I’ve been watching the tv series, which is excellent (did you see it??) but quite different from the books from what I heard so I don’t want to be disappointed. Never heard of Catriona McPherson, then again I also prefer books set in the 19th century, but I’ll add them to the TBR anyway in case I run out of mysteries. I confess I was giving Tasha Alexander’s books a wide berth because I’ve seen her compared to Deanna Raybourn, and the only Deanna Raybourn book I read was a snoozefest. I’m really tempted though, because I love female sleuths. And I did like India Black as a character but I seem to remember I had issues with the pacing and the long-winded political exposition in the first novel.

          I was going to say male protagonists don’t do much for me either but then I remembered my favourite series is Sebastian St. Cyr. Then again he has Miss Jarvis as a co-protagonist in many books, and she’s delightful. Bit too much action-oriented, but there’s some interesting thoughts on the position of women in the 19th century. The Julian Kestrel books are also nice, I’ve been rationing them out because the author only wrote four books; the dialogue in the first book is particularly nice, I could read a couple hundred pages about the characters discussing rose bushes or something like that. Of course I’d put Murder Most Unladylike on top of any rec list (boarding school! bunbreaks!) but you’ve read that already, so… Murder Most Unladylike #2? Daisy’s mysterious Uncle Felix is going to be in it and I can’t wait!

          • Yes, I’ve watched some of Miss Fisher! The series is okay but I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more. It just got really repetitive. Perhaps I should give it another go. I don’t like Raybourn’s books at all. I’ve read the first two and they were good until I realised the author was going for a romance with a brooding, tormented, supernatural hero which, no thanks. Tasha is much much better. The heroine also develops a social conscience during the course of the series and an interest for the campaign for female suffrage, it’s an active series with growing characters and I seriously can’t wait for the new book coming out this month. India Black is such fun, I’d say give her another try if you can but of course if you didn’t like the pacing, no judgment here, to each her own :)

            I’ve given the St Cyr books a try but the period is all wrong for me, I’m a Victorian girl through and through. I *should/ be more persistent – I did give the first book four stars after all – but it seems to me to be Charles Finch in the wrong period i.e. male detective and progressive somewhat but the character doesn’t grow at all (which I’ve just come to realise is one of my pet peeves, in a series I think at some point the character should react to the world around him/her beyond the mystery – I’m not being clear at all, I’m sorry). You had me at ‘some interesting thoughts on the position of women in the 19th century’ though and I really will pick up the second novel. Had never heard of the Julian Kestrel series but googling it I can see that I’m in fact familiar with the cover and it’s popped up in recommendation lists obviously since I read a lot in this genre. I think the first sentence of the blurb had me sigh: ‘THERE’S A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN IN JULIAN KESTREL’S BED. UNFORTUNATELY, SHE’S DEAD.’ – excellent, yet again women being killed and rescued by a dashing hero, great. Maybe I’m too quick to judge (there are just so many books out there, I need to know very quickly whether a title is a waste of my time).

            Speaking of Murder Most Unladylike, Robin posted an extract from Arsenic today :) :)

            • I haven’t watched all of Miss Fisher yet so I wouldn’t know about getting repetitive, then again I usually watch tv as a background while doing other stuff so I don’t pay as much attention as I do to books. Good to know Raybourn and Tasha Alexander aren’t similar, I’ll have to check them out because yay character growth! I might be (very) biased but I think the character growth with Sebastian St Cyr is more evident in later books — I’ve recently reread the first and everyone’s character is really different. Then again I can appreciate that not everyone would like to read ten books in a genre/period that doesn’t appeal to them. :P I don’t think Hero Jarvis does much of anything until maybe the fourth book. (In which there is, again, a dead woman in need of justice, but I’ve decided long ago to pick my battles.) I get where you’re coming from though, there’s always too many books and no matter how warmly a book is recommended, if the blurb turns me off I’ll give it a pass. At least until I win the lottery and can spend all my time reading.

              Oooh, I didn’t know! Rushing off to read it then!

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