France, 1918. As the 11th hour of the 11th day approaches, Bess Crawford is beyond exhausted. Under grey November skies,
she continues to deal with the Allied wounded as well as the German prisoners who stream south, away from the Front. These men who fought valiantly seem glad the war is over,
but now they must face the reality of defeat. Assigned to Dr. Weatherby’s Forward Aid Station, Bess
moves with the advancing British lines. Against a truly heartbreaking landscape, these plodding,
ghostly figures are outlined by artillery flashes like “noisy summer lightening flashing across the clouds.”
Bess’s anxiety pierces anew when feverish, wounded Captain Alan Travis arrives and rants to her that a distant cousin has tried to kill him. He’s anxious to get back to the Front and find this man to stop him from killing again. Bess’s first impulse is to dismiss Travis’s claim. Fear alone can make a man fire at shadows and see an enemy where there is none. But perhaps the Captain is telling a sort of twisted truth. Determined to vindicate him, Bess asks Simon Brandon to find out about Lieutenant James Travis, “this look-alike cousin” who met Alan on the Gare du Nord train platform in Paris in late April 1917, just before they were both shipped off to the Front.
Hot on the trail of James Travis, Bess and Simon are lured to the small village of Sinclair deep the heart of bucolic Suffolk. Here the English branch of the once-impressive Travis family have lived for generations.
To find out more about the illusory James, Bess and Simon set about mingling with the locals,
including the village matriarch, Mrs. Travis, and the local vicar, Mr. Caldwell.
Given an uncovered series of dark family secrets centering on a hastily written will, a savage murder is clearly meant to conceal the desire for money and prestige in a case that culminates in a long-standing Travis family feud. Bess and Simon discover that a younger son was forced to make his own way to the island of Barbados while the elder son inherited the grand estate in Suffolk.
With Alan Travis shipped off to a care facility for his own safety, Bess can
rely on little more than her own sharp instincts. With the help of a kindly fellow nurse and her beloved Simon, Bess travels down a path she could never have imagined, coming face to face with the shattering possibility that Captain Travis was right to look for a man who might not even exist
but tried to kill him, a stranger perhaps unlucky enough to resemble James Travis. While the truth could set Alan free, the reality of what happened to James
draws Bess and Simon ever-deeper into the Travis family deception: “I failed to convince myself that Captain Travis had invented a killer, that he believed himself to be invisible.”
Todd hurls us into the maelstrom of Mrs. Travis’s heartbreaking loss as well as the treachery of a shady solicitor whom Bess is convinced knows more about the Travis family fortune than he
lets on. Sinclair’s wooden memorial stands out on the wintry green, starkly reminding everyone of the men who
went to war and never came back.
Todd conveys a sense of an ending with many of the series regulars making an appearance: Bess’s father, Colonel Richard Crawford; her beloved landlady, Mrs. Hennessey; and Sergeant Lassiter, Bess’s best friend throughout the war and her trusted right arm when she needed it. Is this a new beginning for Bess? Todd makes it appear so. Nursing isn’t the only life Bess has known, but it has been her every waking and sleeping moment for four years,
changing her life in ways she could never have begun to contemplate.
In pastoral Sinclair, far from war’s death and blood and destruction, Bess always has the courage to speak her mind, often impatient with the men around her who seem to want to leave her in the dark. As Bess and Simon
discover the black cloud hanging over the Travis family, they also uncover the truth about two men who made the Army their lives and
saw the best and the worst that such a career could offer.
Todd captures the time period during which women like Bess often found themselves at a loss after all of war’s blood chaos. Who of us really knows what's coming? What dark family secrets will come back to haunt us in the end? The war might be over, but like an endless roll of thunder, it still echoes throughout everyone’s lives--especially for Bess, whom I suspect will be confronting a host of new challenges in the next book in the series.