Friday, August 23, 2013


 DEBORAH CROMBIE:     This has been such a fun week for me, with new authors that I've discovered (Jenn McKinlay's Cloche and Dagger) and authors I've loved and whose new books I read with great anticipation, like Marcia Talley, and today, Charles Todd. The mother/son writing team of Charles and Caroline Todd, who write as Charles Todd, began with the wonderful series featuring shell-shocked WWI veteran, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Ian Rutledge. And then they branched out into a second series with a WWI battlefield nurse called Bess Crawford

The Bess Crawford books are told in first person, and have such an immediacy that I feel I've been transported into Bess's life and time.  They are absolutely addictive, and in A Question of Honor, the 5th Bess novel, we find out some very interesting things about Bess's background. Although set in the latter months of the war, the story goes back to Bess's childhood in India. So of course, I had to ask-- WHY INDIA???
CHARLES TODD: Writing a novel isn’t just starting to type on PAGE ONE.  As any of my fellow authors on JUNGLE RED can tell you, there are “stages.”  The idea, the development of that idea, the setting and its potential, and a survey of what you’ve done before and what you intend to do in this next outing—they all play a role.

A QUESTION OF HONOR is the 5th Bess Crawford mystery, and throughout the previous four, we’ve said quite a bit about Bess’s intriguing background growing up in India.  So we decided it would be interesting to take a look at her life there.  And what better way to do this than at a time of crisis—the hunt for a murderer in the ranks of her father’s own regiment?  Then the question is, how will this event in the past come back to haunt her years later while serving in France? After all, the series is about the Great War, not India.

Of course that meant more research.  Fortunately we have a lot of slides and other material from a month spent in that part of the world.  Still, it’s never a walk in the park. 

They say that for an actor, nothing is ever wasted.  Everything that you see or do adds something to your repertoire of experience.  It’s true for a writer also.  You play so many roles in every book, remember so many small details that can enrich the setting, and draw on all kinds of odd bits of knowledge you’ve collected, sometimes without realizing it.   Then you put them together to make a mystery a page turner.  

Of course you can’t go tearing off in a dozen different directions—you always have to keep an eye on the suspense that drives the plot forward.  India is a vast place.  And every part of it has its history and its own unique quality.  But if your story is set in the Northwest Frontier, you can’t bring in sunrise across the Ganges or the cool scent of pines in the far north, along the border with Nepal, or the intense heat in the south where houseboats float on serene lakes.   And you have to tailor the new setting to meet the needs of the character.  Bess is fourteen.  She’ll see things differently from the battlefield nurse in France in 1918.

What was Simon like then? (DEBS: Bess's father was a regimental colonel; the enigmatic Simon was his sergeant major. Simon is just enough older than Bess that she knew him when she was a child, but now, as adults, their relationship has become MUCH more interesting.) 

What was his relationship with the Crawfords?  How did Bess and her parents interact? What place did her mother hold in the life of the garrison?  And how would the Colonel Sahib handle an unexpected, shocking situation?  You really come up with surprising and intriguing insights.
When the war ends, will Bess ever go back to India?  There are a lot of great plots that could take her there for one book. Who would go with her?  Simon?  Melinda Crawford?  Or is there someone else who will come into her life as the war draws to a close, and end her ties in the East? That’s the beauty of writing a series—you never know what’s around the corner.  And that’s what keeps it fresh from book to book.  

DEBS: I've been fascinated, through all the Bess books, by how modern Bess seems--and yet she is of her time.  I think we (in our time) have developed this idea of Victorian and Edwardian women as fragile and prone to vapors, and yet Bess is anything but. She is courageous in a way that I think most of us "modern women" would be hard-pressed to emulate. Were there women who particularly inspired your idea of Bess?

CHARLES AND CAROLINE: There were people like Florence
Nightingale half a century earlier, who really did so much for nursing, an unheard of thing at that time, and the lives she saved.  Clara Barton did much the same here for the Civil War.  There was Beryl Markham, the woman pilot from Kenya, after the war.  Isak Dinesen too, if you count her time in Kenya growing coffee.  And Freya Stark--who, as I remember, drove a Red Cross ambulance in Italy in WW1, at about Bess's age--and after the war explored places where no westerner had ever traveled, male or female, then
wrote about her adventures.  Gertrude Bell was an earlier explorer in the Middle East and worked there in WW1.  Mary Kingsley explored west Africa.

And there was the famous woman who was the first to be given a medical degree--her name eludes me.  And of course Marie Curie.  There were so many who never became famous but who explored all sorts of exotic places and were thought rather strange for Victorian women who were supposed to marry and have children and behave themselves as a properly brought up young woman
always did.

DEBS: Isak Dinesen is a particular heroine of mine. Running a coffee plantation in Kenya may not sound all that challenging--until you read her account of her life there. (Out of Africa, anyone? And if you've only seen the movie, READ THE BOOK!)

So, readers, are there women of that time that you see as role models?  (I've had Beryl Markham's memoir sitting on my to-read shelf for years--MUST GET TO IT.)

Tell us who you admire!

(Charles and Caroline will be giving a copy of A Question of Honor to one of our commenters!)
And a last little comment from me--this has been a week not only of authors who are some of my personal favorites, but of fabulous covers.  A Question of Honor is stunning, and a good argument for buying paper rather than digital books, so that you get the most enjoyment from it:-)


  1. The "Question of Honor" cover is stunning, and definitely a good reason for a “real” book . . . another book for my teetering to-be-read stack . . . .

  2. Welcome Charles and Caroline. I love that description of how you find your story and the history leading up to the current book!

    can't wait to read it...

  3. The Todds are often gifted with wonderful covers and A Question of Honor is yet another in that long line. Just beautiful!

    So excited to explore more of Bess and Simon's complicated history, as it will no doubt affect their relationship moving forward.

    Thanks for stopping by Charles and Caroline.

  4. Hello, dearest Todds! (Of al the people I've met in this writing world, yo are both so unfailingly elegant and charming and generous...)

    I adore the Bess books and as you know, I am in love with Rutledge.

    What a great idea to look at slides! ANd how organized you are to have and keep them---

    I know you write the Rutledge books "together and apart"--do you do the same for BEss?

  5. This series is quite engaging. Bess is a marvelously fleshed out character.

  6. Welcome Charles and Caroline. We have so many real role models for strong women of the early 20th Century--women who did amazing things. How about Louise Boyd who went to the North Pole? Gertrude Bell definitely, Nelly Bly and yes, I adored West with the Night!

    And I agree with Joan. The cover is stunning!

  7. I suppose you would call Beth an "amateur sleuth", but one of the things I enjoy most about this series is how seamlessly Bess's involvement with her "cases" is integrated with her work and her character. You can't imagine that Beth would do otherwise!

    The thing I like least about reading a Bess book is knowing I'll have to wait a year for the next one:-)

  8. Welcome "Charles Todd"!!

    YES, I agree with Rhys, Nellie Bly is on my list... though I'm sure my idea of her is romanticized. Isabella Stewart Gardner.

  9. I can't wait for this book! I have it preordered and I'm counting the hours until Tuesday. (Louise Penny's new book is also pre-ordered for the same release day.)

    I love Bess! I always wanted to be a nurse as I was growing up - until Freshman year as a Nursing major changed my mind - so I read all the nurse stories. Cherry Ames in fiction and stories of famous women. Edith Clavell is an inspiration.

    I have WEST WITH THE NIGHT in my audible library. I will definitely read it soon.

    After I read A QUESTION OF HONOR. I've been missing Bess and Simon.

  10. I have the first four Bess books on my To Be Read mountain. I usually stockpile so I don't have to wait between books when I read series (patience not my strong suit). I am a huge fan of the Ian Rutledge series and am always recommending it to mystery readers. So, I know that Bess will be another favorite. Also enjoyed The Walnut Tree in which she has a "cameo".

  11. I'm a fan of both the Rutledge and Bess novels. They are not only good mysteries, but good stories as well - Bravo Charles and Caroline. Another great series in this timeline are the books by Jacqueline Winspear, her Maisie Dobbs series. As for Beryl Markham I highly recommend "West With the Night." It's a beautifully written book. However there is some controversary/speculation that Markham's writer husband at that time was the primary writer; yet, I prefer to think not. Both Markham and Dinesen were contempories in Africa at the same time and both had a relationship with Finch Hatton. Two very interesting women with interesting stories to tell. Both "West With the Night" and "Out of Africa" are books that I read, and re-read every few years.

  12. We have been very lucky with the talented artists our publishers select. For the last few years. Harper Collins/Morrow has sought our input. I guess when you have over 20 novels they think your opinion counts :-)

  13. Deborah: Thank you so much for hosting this today. You are a dear friend and you flatter us!

  14. I have just started this series (A Duty to the Dead) and will continue until I read them all. I'd love to win this book.

  15. Dear Hank:

    Another friend and talented author! We write Bess the same way as Rutledge.

  16. Rhys:

    Caroline and I both admire strong women. Our southern roots have exposed us to women who are charming and gracious with a spine of steel. This is especially evident when family or honour are involved!

  17. We have tried hard to have Bess's involvement be a natural course of events and her character. We do not want her to come across a nosey or a gossip.

  18. We really appreciate our friends/fellow authors writing in. We are sworn to secrecy about Bess and Simon!

  19. Hi Charles and Caroline!

    So looking forward to seeing you both at Bouchercon in Albany in just a few weeks.

    And Caroline, so envious of your UK adventures. If you have a chance, tell us what you've been up to!

  20. Caroline is in York via Oxford, Yorkshire, Sherwood, Fountains Abby... She comes home Tuesday and Wednesday we are off to GA for the Lanier Center for the Literary Arts in Macon and the Decatur Book Festival. Our Facebook page has a full list of the other events in September. When we arrive in Albany looking lost and confused please return us to the place on our name tags!

  21. Don't forget Amelia Earhart.

  22. Hello from York! We got in late from Whitby and I am finally reading all the fascinating comments. Internet has been sketchy at best! I just wanted to say that strong women are there in real life and so they must find their place in fiction as well. But you don't have to do something extraordinary to be strong. I think about the women who crossed the prairie or held down the home front when their men were off fighting somewhere. Bess isn't a super woman. Hank and Deborah and Rhys, just to name a few of you, don't write about super women either--we see their strength but also their humanity, and that makes them real. Wish you were all here--off to see York Minster tomorrow morning. Caroline

  23. I visited Karen Blitzen's house while in Kenya. I was struck by the strong feeling of her presence there. I don't mean as a ghost. Just the sense that she loved that place above everything else, and left her imprint there. And probably resented tourists tramping through, because she was such a private person. Back to A Question of Honor--it's exciting to think it is out next Tuesday! You work hard on a book, then hand it over to your publisher, and months later, there it is on a book store shelf or in someone's hand. That's why I'll be home that afternoon,to celebrate with Charles! Couldn't miss that! Oops--I'm losing the signal at this end! Over to you, Charles! Thanks for stopping by, everybody, Carolin

  24. I don't know any "super" women but, let's face it. Women step up to handle any size of crisis, from last minute cupcakes to major illness to war. I look forward to each new Charles Todd book, being particularly partial to Ian Rutledge. I hope to read more about the interesting relationship between Bess and Simon. That should be going somewhere!

  25. My personal favorite woman of History is Eleanor d'Aquitaine.. First she was Queen of France, then Queen of England, and of course Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. Not to mention giving birth to all those princes and a few princesses as well. ..and did I mention she went on a Crusade...

  26. Eleanor d'Aquitaine was quite a woman. Considering the period, her marriage to Henry II and her sons shaped the England we know today. The Magna Carta remains the foundation of the English and American political systems. Peter O'Toole is a personal favorite!

  27. Haven't read any of these books yet but maybe someday.