Charles Todd: The Cliff’s Edge

It’s been several installments of Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series since Britain has been at war. Bess herself has been kept busy, often far from home, but The Cliff’s Edge brings her all the way back, finding her restless and unsure of what she will do next. She’s left with only the decision of what color she will pick for new curtains when a letter arrives in the mail, asking for her help. Her cousin Melinda begs for Bess to go oversee the surgery of one of her longtime friends, Lady Beatrice. Hesitant at first, Bess realizes she doesn’t have much else to do, and agrees to go. But what started as a simple overnight watch for a routine surgery quickly gets much more complicated.

Bess isn’t in Lady Beatrice’s stately home for more than a day when another message arrives – this time a cryptic telegram. Gordon Neville, Beatrice’s godson, has been hurt. That’s just about all the message reveals. As Beatrice can’t travel yet, she sends Lillian and Bess along ahead of her to assess Gordon’s condition. Though his health is dire, the real reason for the telegram was that Gordon’s old friend died in the accident that interested him – and the Neville family wants Lady Beatrice’s help with the legal matters more than anything else.

Now isolated with a potential murderer far from home, Bess must discover if the accident was more than it appears. When another body is found, and someone else gets hurt, it becomes clear that there is, and Bess doesn’t quite know who, or what, to believe happened out on that cliff’s edge. While all this is going on, Bess is also dealing with personal strife – she’s had a falling out with longtime friend Simon (An Irish Hostage, 2021). Though he never appears on the page in this particular book, he is heavy on her mind throughout, and she isn’t sure the rift between them can be mended at all.

As someone who had never picked up a Charles Todd book before, this was perhaps not the best place to start. Though the story was well told – a slow burn leading up to an unexpected conclusion – there were many references I simply didn’t get. Bess mentioned names of characters who I had not met, and sometimes did not fully describe. Her wonderings about Simon often proved confusing, as I did not know who he was. While I enjoyed the mystery and Todd’s masterful prose, I did not get as much out of this as a long time fan would.

Long time fans, however, are sure to eat this up from start to finish. Much is revealed about long running characters in the story, and it neatly becomes part of the plot. Cousin Melinda, it seems, had just as much of an ulterior motive as everyone else in the story. Definitely pick this up if you are a fan of Bess Crawford already, but start at the beginning (A Duty to the Dead) if you haven’t tried one yet. It will be well worth the journey. — Margaret Agnew


Margaret Agnew is the Director of the Cahokia Public Library in Cahokia, Illinois.  A graduate of Ripon College and Indiana University, she has been a mystery fan and an avid reader from an early age.  She was also a reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine.