The Cliff's Edge
By Charles Todd
William Morrow; hardcover, 320 pages; $27.99
Charles Todd is the New York Times bestselling author of mystery series featuring Bess Crawford, and focusing on Inspector Ian Rutledge, which includes A Divided Loyalty (click here for our review from January 2020) and A Fatal Lie (click here for coverage from February 2021). This has been a renowned mother-and-son writing team, and sadly, Caroline passed away in August 2021, and Charles lives in Florida.
The Cliff's Edge is the thirteenth book in the Bess Crawford mystery series, which has won the Sue Feder Award for Best Historical Novel in 2013, the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel in 2014, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award in 2017.
In this captivating work, set in the aftermath of World War I, former battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is caught in a deadly feud between two families. Restless and uncertain of her future, she agrees to travel to Yorkshire to help her cousin Melinda's friend, Lady Beatrice, through surgery.
News of a terrible accident changes their circumstances in an instant, and Bess is now off to isolated Scarfdale and the Neville family, where one man has been killed and another has been gravely injured.
Police are asking questions, and Beth is drawn into the fray as two once close families take sides, even as they must remain in the same house as the inquest is taking place. Another tragedy strikes, police are ready to make an arrest, and Bess is struggling to keep order as tensions rise and shots are fired.
What dark truth lies behind these murders, and what about the tale of an older murder, one that does not appear to have anything to do with the Nevilles?
Bess is not aware that, when she passes the story on to Cousin Melinda, it will set in motion a revelation with the potential to change the lives of those she loves most, including her parents and her dearest friend, Simon Brandon.
In this excerpt, Bess is adjusting to being back home after the war in Somerset in July of 1919 when she receives the request to care for Beatrice in Yorkshire: "The problem was, I was restless. For the first time in over four years, I had time on my hands. I'd helped my mother design and plant a new rose border, I had helped her make jam, I had even helped with the rigorous spring cleaning she and Iris had given every room in this house.
Yet I had been accustomed to wounded being brought in to the surgical tent at all hours, one after the other, as fast as we could work with them. I'd taken a line of ambulances back from the Front to a base hospital, trying all the while to keep men alive until we could give them more care than we were able to provide so close to the fighting. I'd worked in a forward aid station when German aircraft strafed the site, and I'd been overrun by the German Army, dealing with wounds no matter which uniform a man was wearing.
I loved working with my mother, watching her happily planning where to put the yellow climbing rose. But I wondered sometimes if she missed India or South Africa or Kenya, the excitement of the regiment, a foreign country, dealing with a Maharani today and a tribal chieftain tomorrow. She would have followed my father anywhere, made the best of anything. With cheerfulness and enthusiasm. And here she was, finally planning a new garden.
I'd been standing next to her desk. I sat down now in the chair beside her.
'Mother...I don't really need new curtains. What I do need is something new to think about.'
She frowned. 'Are you unhappy here, darling? It's very different from France.'
And she had worried for me there every day of the war. I felt a surge of guilt.
Taking a deep breath, I said, 'Do you miss India?'
She looked away. I'm delighted to be in my own home again. We traveled most of our marriage. Most of all, it's nice not to have to worry about your father - or for that matter, Simon - when I heard a troop coming in late from an action.'
'I understand that. I worried too. But you enjoy going into London with me. Let's do ourselves a favor, and one for Cousin Melinda as well, and run up to Yorkshire together. Florence Dunstan lives in York, we could spend a few days with her, as well. Father wouldn't mind, and Simon can fend for himself for a week. I'm sure Lillian, whoever she is, wouldn't mind having both of us stop in first, to deal with a gallbladder.'...
'Who is Lady Beatrice?' I asked, passing the letter back to my mother. 'Do you know anything about her?'
'I've heard Melinda speak of her. She was a cousin of the Governor of Kenya, and went out there in 1905, after her husband's death. She was so distraught, the family decided she needed a change of scene. She stayed a year or two, and then came home again. I think Melinda met her there.'
'Surely she has family who can step in now?'
'I have no idea, darling. But I expect Lillian has no authority with her - or perhaps she fears losing her position if she pushes too hard.'
'Worse and worse.'
'Well, if Melinda liked her, she can't be all that bad.'
I leaned back in the chair beside my mother's to contemplate this situation and my other issue. What my mother wasn't aware of was that the estrangement between Simon and me was something I didn't know how to repair. It had begun in Ireland, and it was gnawing at me. When my parents were there, Simon appeared to be his usual self, but he avoided me, and I had begun to avoid him as well, which probably only served to make matters worse, I'm sure. But it lessened the pain I was feeling.
And so to my own surprise, as well as hers, I changed my mind and said, 'If we can visit Florence in York on our way home, I'll go.'
'I'll write to Melinda this very minute. I'll leave it to you to ask Florence if a visit is convenient just now.'
But two days later, when we were to travel up to London to take the train north, Cook accidentally scalded her hand and couldn't use it for the next week. And my mother had to stay behind to prepare meals.
That's how it happened. I traveled to Yorkshire alone, to meet the dreaded Lady Beatrice."