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War Wounds: Crime Novels From All Kinds of Battlefields

Category: Art & Culture,Books

Even in peacetime, Bess Crawford, the intrepid battlefield nurse in Charles Todd’s World War I-era mysteries, finds herself in situations as dire as those in any combat zone. “The war had ended, but not the suffering,” she reflects, thinking of the wounded veterans now in her care. “No conquering heroes, these men. No victory parades for them.” Rather, a 24-hour suicide watch.

In A FORGOTTEN PLACE (Morrow, $27.99), Bess travels to a Godforsaken Welsh mining village on the Bristol Channel to check on one such veteran, Capt. Hugh Williams, an amputee racked by anger and despair. There she encounters yet another disaster, a rock slide that buries three cottages and their inhabitants under a wave of stones and mud.

Stranded, Bess is put up by the captain and his attractive widowed sister-in-law, only to find herself confronted with the noxious atmosphere of a town that suspects Williams of having murdered his own brother. Lest readers succumb to the thick aura of calamity that clings to this sad story, Todd offers up charming scenes of local life, including the spring lambing. Things in the village get a bit bloody, but, as far as I can tell, none of the little lambs is murdered.

Time was, the searches in many mystery novels involved lost or stolen items like emerald necklaces and state secrets. These days, sleuths all seem to be in pursuit of their identities. One such is Jessie Sloane, the neurasthenic heroine of Mary Kubica’s WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (Park Row, $26.99), who hasn’t been able to sleep for eight days — or is it nine? As she keeps a tense death watch on her mother, Eden, Jessie fears that Eden might die without revealing who Jessie’s father was. Eden’s own story, told in chapters set 20 years in the past, focuses on her obsessive attempts to have a child and is far more moving than the alternating chapters devoted to her daughter’s self-absorbed quest. “I’m nothing,” Eden berates herself, “if not a mother.” What will happen when she realizes “I’ve become an addict really” and that children “are my fix”?

Christopher (Kit) Cobb is an American war correspondent on assignment in France in 1915. In Robert Olen Butler’s taut new thriller, PARIS IN THE DARK (Mysterious Press, $26), Kit is researching a feature about American civilians who volunteered to drive ambulances. That’s a dangerous job in itself, taking him close to the front lines, but Kit is also a government agent, on the lookout for saboteurs among the ranks of refugees returning to Paris.

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