Sister Crawford spends an eventful Christmas 1917 on leave from the battlefield.
Just back from France and planning to stay overnight in a London boarding house before traveling to her family in Somerset, Bess Crawford finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, wet, shivering and bruised. She brings her inside, and the next day Lydia Ellis admits that she’s leaving her husband Roger, who struck her. If Bess will accompany her, she’ll return to Vixen Hill in Sussex and face him again. Off they go, their arrival heralded by a thunderclap announcement by family friend George Hughes: While in France he saw a young child identical to Roger’s sister Juliana, who died as a tot. Surely Roger fathered her while serving in France. Roger’s sister, mother and gran are distraught. The next day, George is dead, his murder followed by the disappearance, then death, of blind Davis Merrit, who may have killed him. But why? While family tension mounts, Bess, summoned back to France, promises Lydia to look for that child. With the assistance of an Aussie soldier, she finds young Sophie but leaves her in the care of nuns in Rouen. Bess returns to England, followed by the Aussie with Sophie in tow. There’s another murder and much investigating by the constabulary before a plethora of confessions are presented, some admitting to current missteps, others to past mercy killings in the Ellis family, and a deserter is unmasked.
The least believable tale from the Todd partnership (An Impartial Witness, 2010, etc.) finds Bess, Roger and the Aussie traipsing all over France and England and bumping into each other. Still, few writers surpass Todd in depicting the insanity of war.