A chance encounter engenders more danger than a World War I battlefield.
As Waterloo Station teems with soldiers en route to their regiments in France and loved ones bidding tearful farewells, Bess Crawford, a nurse returning to the fray after escorting a badly burned Meriwether Evanson to hospital, recognizes his wife from a photograph the pilot clung to. A distraught Marjorie Evanson is being rebuffed by a member of the Wiltshire Fusiliers. Later, back in France, Bess learns from a newspaper clipping that Marjorie died that very day—she was stabbed, then thrown into the Thames. Did that Fusilier murder her? Bess thinks her information will help Scotland Yard, but it doesn’t, and when she hears that Evanson committed suicide when advised of Marjorie’s infidelity, she begins her own inquiries. At length she turns up two sisters—one who loathed Marjorie, the other determined to find out who her lover had been—and a handsome platonic friend of Marjorie who craved more intimacy than she could offer. He falls under suspicion, confesses and is set to hang, but Bess, abetted by Simon, her father’s former batman, persists in her sleuthing. There’ll be another possible suicide, a near-fatal knifing and many trips between French battlefields, London and Great Sefton before Bess herself comes under attack and Scotland Yard must reconsider its conclusion.
Bess (A Duty to the Dead, 2009) is dogged, implacable and headstrong in the way of Victorian heroines, and mired in a plot the author’s more capable detective, Ian Rutledge, would dispatch in half the time with twice the brio.