Charles Todd’s The Cliff’s Edge

F4B7FC0F-6989-4E3A-A00D-E190E7DB8E42Charles Todd’s The Cliff’s Edge is the latest in his Bess Crawford series. With the same solitary nurse experienced in the worst of bloodshed as the lead, readers can slip firmly into the volume and have no expectation about going beyond. Indeed, while backstory comes into play repeatedly, the way personal pasts in the last war affected both the protagonist and the community she finds herself in mean it’s easy to simply consider it a part of the novel’s parallelism rather than references back to previous books.

At this point the setting is 1919, firmly after the First World War but not yet in a position that one can seriously see that the scars of that war continue to mark the country. Bess, intending to only take a small trip to give advice to a stubborn landed woman in Yorkshire and see relatives nearby, finds herself embroiled in a series of gruesome deaths and trying to sort out her duties as a nurse versus law and justice. As family secrets, local grudges, and at best semi-competent police mount as complications, she has to hold down the fort and protect herself while getting to the heart of matters.

It is at its heart a good setup, one that could lead easily into a traditional gothic novel were there more of a romantic element. The depiction of the setting is clever, written to show the lead’s disdain for it while making clear the fact locals see a certain charm or even natural beauty to the world. Everything from shady bits of personal experience to the above average people with police experience in the town help to illustrate the setting as a post-World War I United Kingdom.

This book is filled with subtle digs at the left wing, anti-establishment, or simply anti-generational rich of the time. While that would be accurate enough in views for someone from the upper classes in the era, it leaves a slightly grimy right-wing feel to the book that will make some uncomfortable. The fact that the local Inspector investigating the case is described as bad for having such views, and that his handwriting is described as terrible with the logic it was learned locally in a public school, make this worse. Once again many of these have to do with the first person point of view and depicting someone more or less accurately for the era. While small actions in the plot take turns based on this, they really do very little to mitigate or argue against it.

On the other hand trauma and abuse of many sorts play a major role in the book. Families torn apart, powerful people keeping secrets, and an overall sense of separation permeate the tale. 

While not as full an experience without the preceding book, The Cliff’s Edge holds up well as a stand alone volume. Featuring a suitably twisted mystery, entertaining characters, and a well thought out setting, the volume shows off the talents of the author. Fans of the series should definitely check it out, and someone looking for a medium weight mystery novel set after the Great War would do well to pick it up.

(Morrow 2023)

Warner Holme

Warner Holme is a longtime booklover who tends to read anything he can. He has held many positions, ranging from the educational to medical all the way to the mildly usurous. Largely forgotten by those around him, Warner has lived in a number of locations, yet keeps being pulled back to the south. He currently lives there with his pets, and politely asks not to be disturbed.

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