Skip to main content

A Cruel Deception: A Bess Crawford Mystery


A Cruel Deception: A Bess Crawford Mystery

It's hard to believe that we are already discussing the 11th entry in the terrific Bess Crawford series. It seems like I was just diving into the first installment featuring the World War I battlefield nurse from England and thinking that it was just a temporary respite from the well-seasoned, award-winning Ian Rutledge series. Yes, the mother-and-son team that writes under the name "Charles Todd" knew that a good thing was happening when they penned their first Bess Crawford mystery, and we're so lucky that it wasn't just a brief departure from their regular series.

The major difference between A CRUEL DECEPTION and the prior Bess Crawford novels is that this latest one takes place after WWI. However, as we’ve seen before, even when a war has ended, it somehow never ends for those who were involved in the fighting of it. That is certainly the case with Bess, who is still caring for the wounded back home in England in late March 1919.

One day, Bess' Matron calls on her and begins to ask if she has thought about her future, or even what she planned to do with herself once the injured from the war have all been tended to. The Matron informs Bess that she has selected her for a special, independent assignment that requires her to be professional and discreet. With that, Bess is sent to meet with another Matron, the chief of nursing, who asks her if she would travel to Paris and look in on her son. He had been fighting with the British troops during the war and is wounded. She wants Bess to determine if he has recovered from his injuries and to ensure that he is doing alright.

"Even though Todd may have been done with WWI, WWI was not done with them. A CRUEL DECEPTION shows that there are still plenty of stories left for Bess Crawford, and I cannot wait to see what happens next."

Bess heads to Paris with little to go on other than the Matron's son's address and his name.  Recognizing that something much deeper is at play here, she wants to confer with her father, a colonel with the British army, but he is also tied up with some post-war business. Bess arrives in Paris and initially learns that Lawrence Minton is not living at the address she was provided and has not been there for some time. The lady running that housing establishment indicates that he may be found in a town outside of Paris, where he is supposed to be attending a peace conference in St. Ives.

When Bess arrives in St. Ives, it does not take much asking around before she comes to the home of a young woman named Marina in a neighborhood that is a far cry from Paris. Immediately upon entering, she makes a quick assessment of the situation. Lieutenant Minton is not battling physical wounds any longer. What he is dealing with is an addiction to rather pricey pain medication. It turns out that Marina is not his mistress, and she is not the one providing him with the laudanum and other medications that his body and mind now requires. Minton had once saved Marina's father, and their family is ever in his debt. Neither Marina's family nor Minton's mother are aware of his current condition, and Bess has to deal immediately with the dilemma of what, if anything, she will report back to the Matron.

Minton has been quite moody and at times impossible to be around. He barely allows Bess any opportunity to assess his physical or mental needs and hides himself away the majority of the time. Bess has gotten to know Marina quite well as she takes up a room in the house and pitches in with financial assistance that is much needed, especially since most of what was worthwhile in Marina's home had been used to pay for his habit. One day, while returning from a shopping trip, Bess finds Marina dealing with a bad burn on her arm that she got from the stove while cooking. As Bess is trying to treat her wound, she learns that Minton is gone.

Not knowing what to do, and realizing that Minton is in no shape to go far or take care of himself, Bess heads back to Paris to begin looking for him in one of the many hospitals in the area. She keeps to herself that Minton left a note that could be interpreted as a farewell letter, meaning that he might be looking to end his life. While in Paris, she befriends Captain Jackson, an American flyer. Jackson is extremely friendly and at once becomes protective of Bess, especially as her search for Minton takes her to some seedy parts of Paris. The war and the current peace conference find Paris teeming with life, and much of it is undesirable, predatory types that Bess would not know how to deal with. She confesses that where she comes from, she sees more cattle and Navajo sheep than she does people, which really makes her vulnerable.

Bess does find Minton in a particularly downtrodden Parisian hospital, and he is barely alive. He was brought in by a local priest who found him after he was nearly beaten to death. Bess believes he was hit with something hard, like metal or wood, and not just bare hands --- leading her to further surmise that whoever did this to him was after him personally as some type of revenge. What did Minton do, and who had he wronged so badly that they would want him dead? The answers to these questions will take Bess way out of her comfort zone and knee-deep in a deadly situation that she is completely unprepared for as she finds that the real world post-war can be just as deadly as the war itself.

I wondered how Charles Todd was going to handle this series now that the war has ended, considering that their protagonist is a field nurse. Even though Todd may have been done with WWI, WWI was not done with them. A CRUEL DECEPTION shows that there are still plenty of stories left for Bess Crawford, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 25, 2019

A Cruel Deception: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd