An Irish Hostage
The Great War has finally come to an end, but that doesn’t mean army nurse Bess Crawford’s days of fighting crime are finished. In An Irish Hostage, Bess travels to Ireland for the wedding of an old friend only to discover a missing groom, distraught bride and a village seething with rage regarding the upcoming nuptials.
The Bess Crawford series is sequential in nature, with each book building upon the last. I strongly recommend reading the novels in order.
England’s war with Germany may be over but the conflict on the home front is just heating up. The Irish staged an armed insurrection in April of 1916 known as the Easter Rising, and the swift and bloody British response to it enraged the people of Ireland. Many who had been indifferent to or against the rebels before suddenly found themselves filled with patriotic fervor to end English rule.
Not everyone in Ireland feels that way, though. Eileen Flynn was a nurse in the British Army and her fiancé Michael was a soldier during all of the violent European conflict. When they left their homeland for war, the Irish rebellion had only been whispers over pints, and many folks all over the country had been happy to see their sons take up arms and send their pay home to struggling families. The attitude now is far different. Men who didn’t desert after 1916 are seen as traitors, as are all who remain friendly with those they fought with. The hostility from their neighbors has forced Eileen and Michael to make plans to leave the isolated village where Eileen grew up after the wedding, but she has her heart set on walking down the aisle of the same church her family has married in for generations. It won’t be easy. The priest is deeply involved in insurrectionist politics and is reluctant to perform the ceremony for those he thinks betrayed their own people. Eileen’s grandmother is a rebel and a harridan who rules her family with a rod of iron and constantly berates her granddaughter for her choices. And Eileen and Michael have both chosen English attendants to stand up with them from amongst those they fought beside. Michael’s commanding officer, Major Ellis Dawson, has come in to serve as best man and Bess Crawford, Eileen’s dearest friend from her nursing service, is to serve as maid of honor.
Bess’s parents, well aware of the situation in Ireland, are reluctant to see her go. They don’t want her traveling across to the Emerald Isle, where English tourists have been murdered. That problem is resolved by close family friend Simon Brandford, who contacts a pilot buddy to fly Beth directly to Eileen’s village. There are other concerns, but between Bess’s determination and the reassurances of Terrence Flynn, Eileen’s cousin and an important man in the rebellion, that Bess will be safe under his protection, she is able to go. Her arrival there is anything but reassuring. Bess lands only to find Eileen’s home mostly deserted. Major Dawson advises her that the family has gone en masse to the constabulary to discover what happened to Michael, who was to meet everyone for breakfast that morning but who apparently vanished between his hotel and the house sometime in the night. There is a great deal of concern regarding foul play given how everyone in the village feels towards him, Eileen, and their upcoming wedding.
Eileen and the others return shortly after Bess’s arrival, with no news and a great deal of worry. When shortly thereafter a body is fished from the sea, Bess and Terrence go to investigate. The corpse isn’t Michael’s, but the man was murdered, and the village is quick to point to the Flynn family and their guests as the likely culprits. Bess must work to clear all their names and find the missing groom before their entire party winds up a victim of vigilante justice.
Fans will be familiar with Bess’ compassionate – and stubborn – nature drawing her into these difficult situations. Since this is a mystery series it should be no surprise that solving crimes and/or puzzles is a well-established characteristic of hers. She sees it as an outreach of her nursing duties – it’s her job to help people even if their needs are emotional rather than physical. And Eileen – with a groom gone missing just days before her wedding – is very emotional.
Bess finds herself quite surprised to discover that the person she trusts most in the coming days is Terrence Flynn, a man wanted under English law. It’s clear that he loves his family, though, and is anxious to find Michael and get that young man and Eileen out of Ireland and to somewhere safe. The book does a nice job of showing how conflicted many of the Irish felt, with a desire for freedom from English rule shared by all but with many being completely uninterested in obtaining it through violence and fearing that violence would have a more adverse effect on Ireland than England. When the conundrum becomes increasingly complex, Bess is also surprised – though most readers won’t be – that help is at hand from an old friend who has found a way to innocuously infiltrate the area.
Since this is the twelfth book in the series, I give nothing away by saying Bess and company successfully resolve their issues. That’s simply the nature of a long-running series with a beloved cast of characters. What makes this story interesting is less the will-they but the how-do-they. Typically, Bess is helped in her sleuthing by her position as an army nurse and by being the daughter of an Englishman of some importance, but in this case, those are clearly detriments since being English army makes her position a precarious one. The Flynn family has come under suspicion by association. I really loved the personal dynamics here, watching how the family members deal with the stress of having Michael gone, of having half the family wanting him to stay gone and all of them having to deal with the animosity of those they once called friends. The author does a good job of giving the secondary characters three dimensions, letting us see the complexity of what they’re feeling and why.
My only complaint with the story deals with Bess’ love life. She’s been slow in coming to an awareness of who she loves, and he hasn’t exactly been helpful by saying nothing of his own feelings. I won’t give his name here since the issue doesn’t come up till near the end of the book, but fans of the series should have guessed by now. The good news is we do move a tiny bit forward in this novel, so that’s something.
That flaw aside, fans of the series will find everything they love about the series in evidence in An Irish Hostage. I’m happy to be able to recommend it.