Review

A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery

by Charles Todd

In 1908, young Bess Crawford is stationed with her mother and father along the Northwest Frontier of India. Her father is the Colonel Sahib of the British regiment, and Bess is the “military brat” who moves wherever the skirmish takes the British forces. Bess is young, impressionable and trusting, and is a natural at befriending the fellow officers and their families.

One of her personal favorites, and a top soldier in her father’s regiment, is the young Lieutenant Wade. Wade is single and therefore has no wife or child with him or waiting behind for him. He has time to bond with Bess, and the Colonel Sahib entrusts her to him from time to time. The Crawford family is rocked when they learn that, while on a mission that took him back to England, Lieutenant Wade allegedly murdered his own mother and father in brutal fashion.

"A QUESTION OF HONOR may very well be the most intense entry in this terrific World War I series."

Rather than returning to his regiment to face justice, Wade flees and attempts to escape from India. Word quickly travels that he is most likely among the many dead who never made it home from India and is not seen again. However, the stain of dishonor that is left upon the Crawford family --- particularly Colonel Sahib --- is indelible. The duty the Colonel has to bringing Wade back to stand trial is something he cannot live down. It is a question of honor.

Ten years later, in 1918, Bess is proudly serving her country as a young nurse in the British army. Her father is still actively involved as well as his right-hand man, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon. They are a well-respected family who count among their friends the author and former resident of India, Rudyard Kipling. While tending to the myriad of wounded soldiers, Bess comes across a Corporal who looks very familiar. Could the wounded man calling himself Corporal Caswell be the long-lost and notorious Lieutenant Wade?

Bess finds an opportunity to be alone with him and confronts him. She validates his identity by asking questions only Wade would know the answer to. Wade recognizes the young woman he once knew when she was but a child and confesses to her that he knows nothing about any murder. Caswell/Wade disappears the next morning, leaving behind an empty cot and many unanswered questions.

Bess cannot let this pass, as the truth is more than just a moral imperative to uncover --- it is deeply personal to the Crawford family and their reputation. Using the assistance of the always reliable Simon Brandon, the two begin retracing the steps Wade made a decade earlier. They are shocked to discover that, not only did he allegedly kill his parents, but another family of three was brutally murdered in the same area and in similar fashion to the first murders. 

Bess goes with her gut instinct that Wade is innocent. At the very least, she wants to find out what would make someone commit such brutal crimes. It turns out that Wade had a dangerous childhood being displaced by war and placed in the foster home of his new “parents” --- the same two who were later murdered.  Bess and Simon uncover a history of violence and abuse by these foster parents. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation as Rudyard Kipling himself shares with the Crawford family that he lived through a similar situation as a displaced war child.

Bess is haunted by the fact that Wade, or one of his foster siblings, could have been pushed to the point of no return and completely capable of this hideous crime. There is no room for innocence during wartime, and even the most upstanding among us may cross the line as the horrors of war take another casualty. A QUESTION OF HONOR may very well be the most intense entry in this terrific World War I series. The mother/son team writing as Charles Todd have taken Bess Crawford down a dark road that is impossible for her to come back from unscathed.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 6, 2013

A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd