Message From The Author

Charles Todd

Genre: Mystery, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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Author's Message


Everyone says that writing the second book in a series is harder than writing the first. Everything is so flexible with the first mystery—developing the character, the setting, the story line, and the plot. After all, it’s one book. You have no past or future.

We were lucky, writing Wings Of Fire, the second Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery. No one had bought the first novel, A Test Of Wills, and so we were free to follow our imagination, without any pressure from an editor, reviewers, fans. In fact, we’d just finished it when Ruth Cavin of St. Martin’s Press called to offer a contract for Test

The situation was very different with the Bess Crawford series. A Duty To the Dead came out last year, and was so well received there was the pressure of living up to what we’d already set out. There was a history, a background, and the personality of this young woman, a battlefield nurse, who had been drawn into a family’s secrets while doing her duty to the dead officer she had tried so hard to save.

We were very fortunate in a different way with the second Bess. Friends in England had helped us locate the various settings for A Duty To the Dead, and they were there for us again for An Impartial Witness—they had taken us to the World War I museum in Ypres, France, which gave us a tremendous feeling for the war scenes we were to write later. But what part of Bess’s background did we want to explore this time? And as for the other people in her life, what role were they going to play?

 The first scene in the book gave us our start. Wounded British soldiers being brought from France to a clinic in Hampshire, where their wounds could be treated and the healing process begin. But one of their number was a young pilot, severely burned, hardly recognizable. He had clung to a photograph of his wife, it had been the source of the courage and determination that had kept him alive. 

The wife. The key to the story. And as we explored her background, we could see what Fate had in store for her. From that beginning came a mystery that swept us along with it to the shock of the ending. It was great fun to write. As we got to know Bess a little better with each chapter, expanding on what we had learned about her in  A Duty To the Dead, we were glad we had decided to do this second series.

But why, with such successful, best-selling mysteries with a male protagonist, did we want to take on a second challenge? It would mean writing two books a year, not an easy task considering the depth of research and understanding that must go into each. We don’t use every plot we come up with. There are many reasons for that—some aren’t complete enough yet to work, some require a setting we aren’t familiar with yet, and some are not the sort of case that would work well with a professional like Rutledge, and so forth. We keep these in a file, and we began to notice that we had quite a few—four or five at least—of these story lines. And we began to consider the fact that a character without the pressures facing Inspector Rutledge might be intriguing to work with. The more we thought about it, the more likely it became, until the image of Bess and her world took shape. 

Was it difficult switching from a male to a female protagonist? Actually it wasn’t. We’d had a number of strong-willed women in the Rutledge series, and so it was natural to think of someone who could carry the story-line on her own. Bess owes much to her upbringing in India, the knowledge of another culture, the familiarity with the world of the army, the sense of duty and responsibility she inherited from her family. But she’s her own woman as well, able to survive in a world at war, to deal with the stress and horror of seeing terrible wounds, and to think for herself. She appreciates the help that those around her give her, but she doesn’t need a white knight to ride to her rescue. Nursing has made her observant. India has taught her to look outside the box, to understand that all people are not the same. Englishwomen have always been resilient, from guarding the castle when men folk were on crusade to exploring worlds beyond the narrow confines of an island kingdom. Bess is their true descendent.

Today, the publication date of An Impartial Witness, the second Bess Crawford, also finds us hard at work on the third mystery in the series. And as we watch Bess search for an orphan who may be in grave danger, we continue to find her an amazing companion with whom to spend these last six months. 

- Charles Todd

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