First Line: At sea...This morning the sun is lovely and warm.
It is 1916, and Bess Crawford is a nurse on board the hospital ship Britannic when it is torpedoed and sinks in the Mediterranean. She's sent back home to England to let her broken arm heal, and although it's wonderful spending time with her parents, she has a duty to perform. A duty to the dead.
Everyone was charmed by the young officer, Arthur Graham, and Bess sometimes wonders if she'd fallen in love with him. But no matter how hard they all tried, Arthur died of his wounds. Before he died, he made Bess promise to go to his home, Owlhurst, in Kent to deliver a message to his brother Jonathan. "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."
Bess and her mother have followed Bess's father ("Colonel Sahib") around the world. Bess knows the meaning of duty, and she feels that she has to do this one last thing for Arthur. Traveling to Kent, she delivers her message to Jonathan Graham, but has the feeling that he's going to ignore Arthur's request. While at Owlhurst, she helps the local doctor with some cases and learns that there is an older Graham brother who was locked away in an asylum at the age of fourteen after murdering a maid. The longer Bess is there the more questions she has. Since no one else seems to take Arthur's last request seriously, she will-- come what may.
I wouldn't expect anything less than an excellent book from the mother-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd, and they deliver. Their Ian Rutledge mystery series is superb, and once again they turn to World War I as their background. Bess is strong-willed, independent, and has a very keen sense of right and wrong. Dangerous situations that would have most people fly into a complete dither have her wading in to see how she can help. Bess is used to thinking on her feet, and wherever she goes, she never forgets to pack her common sense. I'm going to enjoy keeping an eye on her in future books.
The plot of A Duty to the Dead moves along at a good pace, at times humorously. But it can also be heartbreaking as Bess faces the willful ignorance people display when confronted with veterans suffering from shell shock. The story, the historical detail and the characters are going to keep me a willing prisoner of this new series.
I also like the fact that the Todds have chosen a World War I nurse as their main character. I've been fascinated with this rare breed of woman ever since reading Lyn Macdonald's The Roses of No Man's Land, and they finally seem to be making a strong move into the world of fiction. If you're already a fan of fellow World War I nurses Maisie Dobbs and Jade del Cameron, you should definitely give Bess Crawford a try.
I have another author (in this case a mother and son duo) who I will definitely be reading more of! Bess Crawford is a great character and I cannot wait to read the next 3 adventures with her. This book moves along at a pretty good clip and keeps you guessing till the end. In my opinion, a very good read!
Even without the mystery of who-did-what, this would be a good read. Well written, evocative of a time and place (England in WWI), believable characters, and a mini-history lesson about the RMS Britannic to open the story.