World War I Battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s career is in jeopardy when a murder is committed on her watch, in this absorbing and atmospheric historical mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd.
Home on leave, Bess Crawford is asked to accompany a wounded soldier confined to a wheelchair to Buckingham Palace, where he’s to be decorated by the King. The next morning when Bess goes to collect Wilkins, he has vanished. Both the Army and the nursing service hold Bess negligent for losing the war hero, and there will be an inquiry.
Then comes disturbing word from the Shropshire police, complicating the already difficult situation: Wilkins has been spotted, and he’s killed a man. If Bess is to save her own reputation, she must find Wilkins and uncover the truth. But the elusive soldier has disappeared again and even the Shropshire police have lost him. Suddenly, the moral implications of what has happened—that a patient in her charge has committed murder—become more important to Bess than her own future. She’s going to solve this mysterious puzzle, but righting an injustice and saving her honor may just cost Bess her life.
Like all the Bess books, AN UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE is chock full of fascinating historical details and a wonderful sense of place--not to mention a plot that kept me reading straight through until I finished it. And as a bonus, I got to quiz Caroline and Charles about the book!
DEBS: Caroline and Charles, are your books most often inspired by particular places?
CAROLINE: Absolutely! For each book we look for just the right setting, and then spend some time there. Take your own book, THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS. I can’t think of any other part of London that would have suited Andy’s story as well. So not only the look and feel of a place matter. You must ask what happened there in the past, because it will affect the lives of the characters in one way or another. The setting also determines the action, because it’s the limit in time and space for what is going to happen. Driving off a cliff may sound like a dramatic finale for a mystery—but you have to make sure to start with that you’re in a countryside that has cliffs.
CHARLES: Sometimes we drive to a village we think is going to be ideal. Bur when we get there, we discover it has no "character" after all, nothing that would make a mystery interesting. So we have to move on. One of the reasons Rutledge works in the countryside so often is that English villages have so much to offer in the way of opportunity and variety. And the same is true of Bess. Of course occasionally we change the name of the village, if we think it would be best for the people still living there. This is particularly true in next year's Bess, which we're working on right now. But if you know England, you can usually figure it out from the geography.
DEBS: I was so fascinated by your depiction of Ironbridge (both the town and the bridge) that I hadto look it up. Did you visit it?
C&C: We really enjoyed our time there. It’s in Shropshire, not far from Shrewsbury. That iron bridge is very dramatic. Just right for the first murder. And there’s a lovely little town that climbs the hill that rises on this side of the bridge. We discovered a bookshop there, and found books on Shropshire and the Great War. (The story of our lives—we’re always hunting for a way to get books back home! ) Believe it or not, that bridge was opened in 1781, the first arched bridge ever built of cast iron. It’s on the UNESCO Heritage list. We tend to take bridges for granted, but this one spans the River Severn where it passes through a narrow gorge, and it must have been a godsend locally! Imagine having to travel for miles to find a place where you could ford or take a ferry. We liked it so much that Morrow put it on the jacket.
DEBS: Bess finds herself in a very difficult position in this book, appearing to have been remiss in her duty at best, and at worst possibly helping a soldier desert. Was there any particular incident that inspired this story line?
C&C: We'd seen an audience with the Queen where she gives out honors and medals, and we were intrigued with the idea of taking Bess to one. It was when we were deciding what sort of person the wounded man would be, the one she was accompanying in order to manage his wheelchair, that the rest of the story fell into place. And we were in Wales on that same trip to Ironbridge when we happened to see something on TV that triggered a very intriguing possibility. Can’t tell you more about that—some people haven’t read the book yet. Oddly enough, though, most of that information is still classified, and we can’t help but wonder why…
DEBS: Bess gets to spend almost the entire book with handsome and intriguing Simon Brandon, which was a real treat. They have such an interesting relationship, and we learn more about Simon in this book. And of course readers want to know if they will ever be more than friends. Do you know, or do you let the relationship chart its own course from book to book?
CAROLINE: Everyone loves Simon, I think! We just wrote an e-short story, "The Maharani's Pearls," where we learn a little more about the early relationship between Bess and Simon while the regiment was still in India and she was a young girl. What’s in their future? We have no idea, they haven’t told us yet. Whatever their ultimate relationship, though, there’s definitely a strong bond between them, and that has intriguing possibilities. Meanwhile, there’s still a war on, and nobody is thinking about the future just yet. Stay tuned.
DEBS: Are the Dysoes (a unique setting in the book) real, and if not, what inspired them?
C&C: The Dysoes are quite real. And such a strange formation of high rounded hills with a single road snaking through them. Not what you’d ever expect to find in Warwickshire. A perfect place to set a story. Just driving through that area was claustrophobic. And think how cut off those villages must have been for centuries. Bess and Simon were the strangers there, and not very welcomed.
DEBS: Bess and Simon seem to drive all over England in this book! How do you figure out how long it would have taken them to get from one place to another in 1918? I would love to have a map! I think your (our) publisher should commission Laura Hartman Maestro to draw maps for the Bess books. And the Rutledge books!
CAROLINE: We love your maps! And we have a map for A FINE SUMMER’S DAY, the next Rutledge! Morrow found a wonderful cartographer who put his travels on the map. Literally. Bess actually has only four sites in this book--for the mystery part of the story. There's London, of course. Then Shropshire (Shrewsbury --think Brother Cadfael!—and Ironbridge). And then traveling to Warwickshire and the Dysoes, which aren’t all that far away from Stratford. Bess also goes to Bakewell, just a skip and a jump from Chatsworth. We tried to keep it interesting but manageable.
CHARLES: It’s often frustrating, figuring out mileage for Rutledge and Bess. Some of the roads they would have used don't exist any longer, so you sort of have to imagine how they would get from A to B and how long it would take. We don't know if we are always precisely right, but we’re close enough to feel good about it. The roads were hopeless. But the motorcars of the day were marvels. A friend owns Rutledge's motorcar. We've driven in it many times. Just recently it went from Pennsylvania to New Orleans without a hitch. We think it has even climbed Pike's Peak. A hundred years old and still one of the most beautiful motorcars you can imagine. A burgundy red with a dark cream top, everything on it spit and polish, and an elegant Flying Lady (The Spirit of Ecstasy) for the bonnet ornament.
DEBS: You got a head start on the Great War, long before current writers decided to go back to that period. The first Rutledge, A TEST OF WILLS, was published in 1996. Now we’ve come to the centennial of 1914-1918. What are you doing to mark this occasion? (The photo is the stunning exhibit filling the dry moat of the Tower of London to mark the centennial. The installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies by ceramic artist Paul Cummins is called "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red." Each poppy represents a British military fatality from the war.)
C&C: We’ve just turned in A FINE SUMMER’S DAY, and we think it’s rather special. January always means a Rutledge mystery, but this year we go back to June of 1914, when Rutledge had a brilliant career going at the Yard and is falling in love. He has one last inquiry he must close before he can think about enlisting in the British Army. What happens in those months between June and late September made him not only the detective he is, but the man he’s to become. Not a prequel so much as a chance for readers to look deeper in Rutledge’s past, before the Battle of the Somme in 1916 changed him forever.
CAROLINE: On a personal note, it was a very emotional book to write, and we had just turned it in, still fresh in our minds, when I went to see WAR HORSE in London, with a friend. I can’t describe the impact it had on me. It was as if I’d suddenly stepped into war with Rutledge.
C&C: Before we move on, we’ve just got to say something about your newest Kincaid and Gemma, TO DWELL IN DARKNESS. Having the same publisher, we managed to get our hands on an early copy, and it blew us away. It all takes place in four days, and the plotting is so clever we were unable to put it down. There was only one problem with it: we read the whole thing in one weekend, and now we have to wait a year before we find out what happens next! Get to work!
DEBS: Thank you, Caroline and Charles! Caroline and Charles are great motivators (they write TWO fabulous books a year!) and cheerleaders! We're very fortunate that, because we have the same publisher, we often get to do events together, so I'm including a couple of my favorite photos. In the first we aresigning together somewhere in the wilds of central Florida (I think.) In the second, we had an event together in Charleston, SC. We got to eat oysters (Charles and I share the passion) and do a little sightseeing. This is Caroline shooting me shooting Caroline!
I'm very excited about the map in the new Rutledge, A FINE SUMMER'S DAY, in January (and what a great title!) and I wondered, REDS and readers, if everyone else loved maps in books as much as Caroline and Charles and I do?
Charles and Caroline will be dropping in to chat today, so do tell us in the comments!
P.S. I want to see a photo of Rutledge's motorcar!
P.S.S. Isn't that a terrific cover???