Monday, November 12, 2012

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford Series, Book 3) by Charles Todd

Completion Date: June 5, 2012
Reason for Reading: Carry on with the series.
World War One battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is featured for a third time in A Bitter Truth . Bess reaches out to help an abused and frightened young woman, only to discover that no good deed ever goes unpunished when the good Samaritan nurse finds herself falsely accused of murder.
1.) How did A Bitter Truth stack up for you against Bess' previous two adventures?
I always find that I have a hard time initially getting into this series. It has happened with all three books so far, but once I am engrossed in the story things seem to go rather well. I have almost entirely read the three books in one sitting each. I actually think the series is getting better, though. The writing is improving and the overall stories. They are getting to know Bess Crawford better with each book and as a result, the readers is able to get more and more lost in the stories. My one little problem remains, though. I sometimes find Bess Crawford too morally superior. It doesn't always strike me as believable. I know this was different times, but not everyone does the right thing every time. I was amazed when there was a chance for Crawford to do 'the right thing' in this book and instead she did the nicer thing. There are some times where 'the right thing' isn't necessarily the right thing. I think if she had done what her first instinct was in this case I would have lost all respect for her as a character.

2.) I really enjoyed the mystery in this novel, and confess I was quite confounded as to who the killer was, until the very end. How about you?
I think the mystery is where the writing evolution is the most apparent. In the first book I solved the mystery very early on in the story. In this one I was a bit more hesitant about my conclusion. I had theories and kept reading to find out if I was right or not. They are getting better at throwing situations in to make you look in different directions only to find out that it was a 'red herring'. I like being surprised and such, so I am glad things are getting more complicated.

3.) The plight of orphans in the war is brought to the forefront in this novel - what do you think of Lydia's and Bess' feelings and plans for Sophie?
I had a really hard time with my thoughts on this. On the one hand, I agreed with Lydia. But then I had other moments where Bess was more likely right. I think that Sophie should be with her family instead of the nuns, but I understand that the nuns would also be distraught thinking that something had happened to the child. It is an example of Bess' moral superiority. I was left thinking right or wrong, I could not imagine bringing a child out of the horrors of France only to bring her back again. I just couldn't agree with Bess on that issue despite also understanding where she was coming from. I was glad with how things played out because I ultimately thought they were the best for the child at that time. I also appreciated the glimpse at what it was like for orphans of WWI. It is something that gets buried in other aspects of the war experience.

4.) I was struck by the passage in chapter 15, when Todd speaks of the evolution of the war: "The days when men lined up in their dozens to be the first to enlist had long since passed. Now the reality of the trenches had scoured away that bravado, and in its place were these recruits, afraid of shaming themselves in front of their mates but probably wishing themselves anywhere but here." How did you see the war changing people and events in the novel?
When I look back on the two major wars I am always impressed with the men and women that rushed out to join up in the beginning. Especially for WWII because they had often grown up hearing about the first war from their parents and yet they still wanted to fight. I often toy with how I would have felt in the same situation. In the beginning, though, it is the heroic thing to do and a chance to vanquish the enemies. Later on, it is still important but you become more aware of what it is really like and only do so because it is right or because your friends are doing it. Then, there was the idea of the 'white feather'. Citizens would present men of the correct age with a feather branding them as cowards. It made it even harder to stay out of the mix. By the time this book takes place, though, the lustre is off the war. It is dragging on, the death toll is high, and people are attempting to desert which has devastating repercussions if they are caught. Alternatively, they sometimes shoot themselves in certain areas to get necessary leave or get out entirely.

5.) Simon Brandon plays an even greater role in this book than the last, though I don't think Bess sees his interest as more than professional or familial. What do you think his intentions are? And do you think Bess recognizes them?
I am not sure what to make of Simon. I really like him and I think he really likes Bess from different things he has said and such, but now there is this Aussie thrown in the mix. I think it will depend on if he is in the next book where Simon fits into everything. Bess seems to like the Aussie and he seems to like her. I hope that Simon continues to play a role in the books and I guess we will see how things go.

This book counts for the War Through the Generations Challenge and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.


  1. I have been wanting to read this series for years. Great review.


  2. I find I am liking this series LESS as it moves along, rather than more. I think it is because I don't feel as though I am getting to know the characters better. I don't feel as if I am privy to Bess's inner life, and I don't feel as if she is really growing by her interactions with people. I also don't like the ambiguity of Simon Brandon. How old is he, anyway, and is he a possible suitor?

    In "A Bitter Truth" I also did not like the Ellis family -- Lydia in particular. Just to pick on example, she had no compunction about asking Bess, whom she had really just met, to give up her leave from the front to save her (Lydia) from embarrassment. What a self-centered person! And she didn't improve. I also thought the plot thread that was the working assumption of Bess and others as to the probably motive for the murder was hard to swallow, even allowing that the story took place in 1917. It might even be easier to believe it in a modern story.