A nursing sister in the last days of World War I tries to help a man belatedly accused of murder.
When Bess Crawfor, of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, encounters her former patient Maj. Mark Ashton in Canterbury, he invites her to stay with him and his parents at their ancestral home in nearby Cranbourne. She accepts but soon realizes she’s come at a bad time. An explosion in the Ashton powder mill two years ago has turned the Cranbourne villagers against the family. Although the army had commandeered the mill from Mark’s father, Philip, and ignored his warnings not to push production too hard, Philip is still blamed for the disaster. But Bess is as puzzled as the Ashtons about why the villagers should suddenly become even more agitated—and why Philip should be arrested so long after the deaths of the millworkers. When Bess returns to the front in France, she tracks down the one witness who actually saw the explosion. But he won’t request leave from the army to come back to England and testify. Instead, Bess returns to Cranbourne to question the villagers, whose reasons for harassing the Ashtons range from conspiracy theories to resentment of perceived wrongs during the reign of Henry VIII to beliefs in an angry water deity. Even so, Bess is certain that one person has found a way to unite them in hatred of the Ashtons. She must juggle her search for facts with her nursing duties in France, as soldiers maim and kill one another for futile possession of inches of land. Even when someone at the hospital tries to murder Bess, it doesn’t stop her efforts to find the man behind the campaign to see Philip Ashton hanged.
Despite uneven pacing and a couple of creaky plot devices, Bess’ seventh case (An Unwilling Accomplice, 2014, etc.) does its strong, determined heroine credit.