Review: A Bitter Truth: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

a bitter truth

A Bitter Truth / Charles Todd

Expected publication: September 1st 2011 by William Morrow.

* In compliance with FTC guidelines, it should be noted that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

I have a love-hate relationship with the mystery/thriller genre so I’m constantly on the hunt for new titles to see how an author will twist the well-known and loved genre into something new.  I haven’t read anything by Charles Todd before so I was quite looking forward to reading this one.

A Bitter Truth is third in the series of mystery novels featuring battlefield nurse – and accidental sleuth – Elizabeth “Bess” Crawford.  Upon her return to England from war-torn France, she encounters a bruised and beaten woman named Lydia Ellis.  Ever the good heart, Bess takes her in.  Lydia tells a tale of violence and betrayal and tells Bess that the only way she would come back to her Sussex home is if Bess would accompany her.  They find Lydia’s home of Vixen Hill in mourning over a lost brother.  As Bess prepares to return to London, a house guest is murdered and Bess becomes a suspect.

Okay, the GOOD:

I like the overall mood and setting of the story.  Very gothic, noir-like.  The scenes in France had a totally different feel from those set in England.  It really transports you to WWII era.  The story progression, albeit slow, was steady; no flashbacks and almost re-telling of events within the text.  It almost had the feel of a dinner theatre mystery.  I liked the character of Bess.  She was solid and consistent and strong.  Simon Brandon and Sergeant Larimore were very likable as well.

Although I did not like most of the Ellises, they had good character development.  However, I am not sure if readers are supposed to hate them as much as I did.  They, especially Gran, were cold and self-centered.  Lydia was insensitive and impractical (although I did like her the most out of her family).  At first, I thought it made sense for the author to antagonize the Ellis family for the sake of the story but towards the end, I’m not quite sure if that was necessary… or even relevant overall.

And, the stuff I did not like:

Okay, I liked the premise of the story and the direction it was going as I read on.  But the execution was lacking.  Everything was long-drawn-out and it slowed the story down.  There were parts where I was reading a passage again and again until my eyes glazed over.  I had a hard time getting into it because the beginning was slow and boring.  (And as it turns out, the whole first part had absolutely NOTHING to do with the bigger picture.  Filler!)  And the overall writing was choppy.  It was like it was trying to sound like something it’s not.  I can’t quite figure it out.  Maybe it’s because “Charles Todd” is a pseudonym for a mother-son writing team?  Two people with different writing styles.  The words did not flow smoothly.  The switching between calling the Ellis family members by their first name and full name got confusing fast.  “Mrs. Roger, Mrs. Lydia, Lydia Ellis”, all one person.  Can’t we just call her “Lydia”? “Mama Ellis, Mrs. Ellis, Roger’s mother”?  I gave up after a while and just went with it.

There were also some questionable decisions that I don’t want to get into.  (That’s for a reader guide or a book club to discuss.)  I have to say that I was impressed that I wasn’t able to crack the case before the book told me who did it.  But that was short-lived because more irrelevant things happen towards the end of the book.

With that said, this was enough to spark my interest in seeking out other Charles Todd books.  Bess is a great character and I would like to see her in the author’s other work.

Rating: 3/5.

Recommendation: This can be a good book club selection.  There is a good amount of mystery and intrigue and lots to talk about.

Get your copy here.




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