Though Todd’s gorgeous mystery story deals with the ideology of war and the chaos of the battlefield as seen through the eyes of ever-stalwart Bess Crawford, the story delves much deeper into the moral effects of dishonor. Through Bess, we are given a vital window into the past and into the tricky labyrinth of murder in India’s Northwest Frontier in 1908. Then Bess was only a headstrong twelve-year-old girl, and her schoolgirl infatuation with Lieutenant Simon Brandon was the only thing that got her through the difficult months ahead.
In A Question of Honor, Bess is caught up in the presumed guilt of Lieutenant Thomas Wade. A handsome and honorable man who had served with both Simon and with Bess’s father, Colonel Sahib, Wade was called upon to accompany Mary Standish back to England after she received news of the death of her little girl, Alice. Upon Wade’s return to India, however, he becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his parents. Taking a fresh horse, Wade rides into the mountains of Afghanistan. The local Military Police are reluctant to search for him in the treacherous reaches of the Khyber Pass.
A Question of Honor begins on the day Wade is eventually declared dead. But when—ten years later—he appears in front of Bess in the trenches of No Man’s Land, his presence becomes the catalyst for a series of interconnected threads by which Bess must witness yet again the cycles of life and death. The arrival of the man, who may or may not be Wade, becomes an apt metaphor for the complex relationships that will haunt Bess throughout much of this story.
On a rain-swept night, Bess tries to get a convoy through to Rouen’s Base Hospital. Fighting the mud and slick roads and constantly dodging columns of men moving up the line, Bess swears she has seen Thomas Wade dressed in a corporal’s uniform. Plunged into memories, Bess is terrified that Wade might recognize her. Moving back to England with the convoys of the wounded, Bess confides to Simon just as they learn that Wade may also have been responsible for the murder of the Caswell family ten years previously.
Excavating the story behind the mystery, Bess and Simon travel to bucolic Petersfield to find the truth behind the killings. Once considered pillars of the Petersfield community, the Caswell family were brutally murdered in cold blood while the man who killed them got away scot-free. As the suspects line up—enigmatic Sandy Hughes, Teddy, Bess’ driver, the temperamental Captain Bingham, estate agent Barney Lowell, and kindly, deceptively affable Miss Goodings—Bess and Simon enter deeper and deeper into Wade’s fractured world of odd contradictions.
Beautifully written with characters so clear and real, Todd evokes Bess’s innermost fears and disappointments as she continues to grow in depth and understanding while facing the challenges of mending the sick and wounded. Lovely, colorful Petersfield vies with Bess’s violent and overcrowded time in No Man’s Land, where for the first time we see Bess maneuvering around the flattened barbed wire in a landscape as bleak and destroyed as anything she’s ever set eyes on. Bess sees her role not just as work but as a vocation, and she approaches the dead with respect and the survivors with sympathy and comfort. Such is the grim and neverending work of a nurse in a war zone as Bess’s journey takes her ever deeper into the muck of the German trenches.
In an ever twisting, turning and well-populated plot that is cleverly devised so that the reader, Bess (and Simon) will keep guessing until the tense climax, Bess remains resolute in protecting her father’s honor as she follows on the trail of a desperate murderer. The death toll around the Caswell family is high, and the more questions Bess asks, the more danger she puts herself in. Yet Bess proves to be as stubborn as ever, her considerable investigative talents never a distraction from her willingness to take her place in society and do her very best to help along with the war effort.