Welcome to our Saturday Spotlight, here on Alternative-Read.com – Today we are really pleased to welcome bestselling authors, Charles and Caroline Todd, the mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States!
A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd brings back Bess Crawford in a riveting mystery. As always tidbits of the historical context of the war allows readers to feel as if they were transported in time to another place and era.
As Bess is pondering her future at wars end, she is asked by her Matron to travel to France to find out what has happened to her son Lawrence Minton. He is a WWI veteran who is supposed to be sitting in on the Paris peace talks but seems to have gone missing. After tracking Lawrence down in a small village, Bess discovers he’s addicted to laudanum and plagued by guilt. During one of his sleepwalking episodes, Lawrence cries out not to be judged, because he “tried.” Realizing he is taking the drug to escape his crippling sense of guilt over the wartime trauma, Bess must find out what happened and why someone is trying to murder him. She has an uphill battle because Lawrence is heavily addicted to the opiate laudanum, bitter to the young woman who is trying to help him, and refuses to communicate with her. To make matters worse, he can’t confide in Bess, because the truth is so deeply buried in his mind that he can only relive it in nightmares.
The cast of characters has varied from many of the books. Simon Brandon was a young soldier who served under Bess’s father, Colonel, Richard Crawford, rising through the ranks to become Regimental Sergeant-Major. He now serves as the Colonel’s assistant, but also became a companion to Bess as he taught her to ride, to shoot, and later to drive a motorcar. It is Simon to whom Bess turns when she can’t talk to her parents and needs someone to assistant her in solving the mystery. Yet, in this book Simon is barely mentioned. Instead, Bess turns to help from her father, Colonel Sahib as he is known, and to a new character introduced in this novel, Captain Clifford Jackson.
This story will tear at the reader’s heartstrings. By the end of the book they will be emotionally drained as they experience what Bess is going through from anger to compassion to fear for her and Lawrence’s safety.
Elise Cooper: Why this time period?
The Todds: It is important to remember that the Armistice ended the fighting, but the war was not over until the Paris Peace Treaty that was signed in June 1919. We wanted to do something with those peace negotiations.
EC: The Angel of Mons was an interesting fact?
The Todds: The Germans tried to advance down the Marne River in an attempt to cut off supplies to the French Army. It happened while the Germans were fighting the British forces where there were reports of seeing a supernatural force that helped the British troops. This was the troops perception and it was a strong motivating factor that helped the troops during a dire need. The result was that the men were inspired, and then held the German advance. Speculation over the Angel has it that some think it was a newspaper gimmick, while others think it was real. We decided to go with the ‘what if’ in this story.
EC: You reference the negotiations in the story?
The Todds: Georges Clemenceau was out for blood. The allies were not interested in peace in our time, but wanted to destroy Germany so that it could never be a fighting force again. The French in particular were determined to not only get back at the Germans, but to regain what they thought as their rightful space as the supreme power on the European continent.
EC: You have a quote about President Wilson?
The Todds: Wilson was an idealist who wanted to end all wars and believed in self-determination. In theory, it had a lot of merit, but in practicality did not address what happened on the ground. He wanted self-determination where every little country that wanted could have its independence. He had the American viewpoint that all these colonies could be created as a new country in the image of the US. It just doesn’t work that way. Look at today with Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and the Kurds. We sadly do not learn from the past. We seem to think in terms of what works for us and do not have an understanding of the tribal systems.
EC: A relevant topic to today that is explored is opioid drug addiction?
The Todds: During those times people did not understand by giving troops morphine to ease their pain it turned into drug addiction for some. We also wanted to show how the drug could be turned into a murder weapon. A few drops could be prescribed, but someone could put in more drops and suddenly the person dies.
EC: How would you describe Lawrence, the addicted soldier?
The Todds: Broken and someone who could not find himself. He struggled and is haunted by what happened to him. He is not thinking of the other person who is trying to help. At the end of the book we wanted to make him face the truth. This self-destruction was his form of shell-shock, with the feeling he deserved to be miserable.
EC: You speak of the British as being very guarded?
The Todds: They are. We get them to speak with us by sharing something we have in common, such as the weather or dogs. They open up to a specific interest instead of asking them to bury their soul. We try to back our way into getting useful information about the war. We try to find some common ground.
EC: Interesting facts about pigeons?
The Todds: They were messengers during the war. They went back to their roots. A famous pigeon was shot up and he still got home because of this determination. A famous American pigeon saved a lost battalion during WWI. There was even a song written about him. We put in about the pigeons because it brings home the story of WWI in a very human way.
EC: You have Bess shooting a bad guy that shows guns are a great equalizer?
The Todds: She would not have otherwise been able to overpower him or stop him from torturing Lawrence. She intentionally wounded him to stop him. If he had pounced on her that would have been an abrupt end to the series, LOL. I think this is similar to the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the guy with the swirling swords was shot. Everyone gave her little credit and thinks she is a poor aim. This is not true; she is well trained to shoot.
EC: Simon was MIA in this story?
The Todds: It is a subtext throughout the story, ‘where is Simon.’ We deliberately did it because we are going to have him do something in the next book, and we did not want Simon to always save the day. Even though Simon is not on the printed page, Bess is always wondering about him. Romantically she does not know her feelings. When she was a member of the nursing staff she refused to think about getting married. But now things are winding down so life outside the trenches resonates with her as she thinks about her future.
EC: Is this a story of revenge?
The Todds: It is as well as how someone can form the wrong conclusions from certain facts. We did not want to write the usual murder mystery but a journey to find the truth. The murders took place off stage. We want to write different causes for the murder. In one book, it appeared the whole town was involved. In another book a spy was involved, and in this one blackmail was involved.
EC: Captain Jackson is a great character?
The Todds: In our next book we needed a pilot who was part of the Lafayette Escardrille, a unit of largely American volunteer pilots flying for France and under French command. He is from Albuquerque who had an unsophisticated sense of logic that could not be argued with. He is kind, caring, and gallant, a typical Westerner. The Captain took Bess under his wing as his protector. A cowboy who was like Sergeant York.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
The Todds: In a previous book, Bess saved the life of an Irish nurse. Now at the end of the war she is going to get married and wants Bess in the wedding party. Once Bess arrives she becomes a target, the English villain. Simon will be prevalent in this book.
The next Ian Rutledge book it titled A Divided Loyalty. He is in a situation where he must make choices that could cost him his career. As he works through a murder case there are ramifications far beyond the solving of the murder.
If you liked this interview
The Black Ascot…
In the aftermath of World War I, nurse Bess Crawford attempts to save a troubled former soldier from a mysterious killer in this eleventh book in the beloved Bess Crawford mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd.
The Armistice of November 1918 ended the fighting, but the Great War will not be over until a Peace Treaty is drawn up and signed by all parties. Representatives from the Allies are gathering in Paris, and already ominous signs of disagreement have appeared.
Sister Bess Crawford, who has been working with the severely wounded in England in the war’s wake, is asked to carry out a personal mission in Paris for a Matron at the London headquarters of The Queen Alexandra’s.
Bess is facing decisions about her own future, even as she searches for the man she is charged with helping. When she does locate Lawrence Minton, she finds a bitter and disturbed officer who has walked away from his duties at the Peace Conference and is well on his way toward an addiction to opiates. When she confronts him with the dangers of using laudanum, he tells her that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he can find oblivion. But what has changed him? What is it that haunts him? He can’t confide in Bess—because the truth is so deeply buried in his mind that he can only relive it in nightmares. The officers who had shared a house with him in Paris profess to know nothing—still, Bess is reluctant to trust them even when they offer her their help. But where to begin on her own?
What is driving this man to a despair so profound it can only end with death? The war? Something that happened in Paris? To prevent a tragedy, she must get at the truth as quickly as possible—which means putting herself between Lieutenant Minton and whatever is destroying him. Or is it whoever?
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Great interview. I had no idea this was a mother/son writing team.