Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

Title: A Duty to the Dead
Author: Charles Todd
ISBN: 9780061904592, William Morrow, 2009
Genre: Historical mystery, Amateur Sleuth, #1 Bess Crawford
Rating: A

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.

*Review copies provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program and Amazon Vine.


  1. They are obviously excellent writers and I've already got this one on my wishlist.

  2. I'm going to find this one. I enjoy stories where the main character is a strong female with common sense. I'm also curious to read a mother-son writing team.

  3. And another series to the list..... thanks! Actually this one sounds a bit different and really good. I like the WWI setting.

  4. Boy, does that sound good. I find it interesting that only the son's name is on the cover.

  5. Love reading books that are co-written. This is one I'd not heard of before. Thanks for recommendation!

  6. This sounds interesting - nice review! I have never heard of the Todd's - very interesting to write with ones mother.

  7. I'm a fan of this series! Whee! A new one!

  8. Bernadette-- Good! Then we can compare notes.

    Margot-- I've read several books in the other series. This mother-son writing team does an excellent job!

    Beth-- Do I have my own separate page on your wish list yet? 8)

    Kathy-- Reminds me of the Bronte sisters: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.

    Stacy-- You're welcome!

    Cathy-- I would imagine that it is a very interesting experience, and they do it quite well.

    Jenclair-- It's the first in a new series by the Todds, not a new one in the Ian Rutledge series. (Which I like, too!)

  9. I have been wanting to read Charles Todd for such a long time, but have never gotten around to it. I don't like historical fiction but definitely like historical mysteries. I'm not sure which I should try first - this one, or the first Ian Rutledge one.

  10. Belle-- I can't remember if you said you liked Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series or not. I would say that, if you did, I'd go for Todds' Bess Crawford. Although the Ian Rutledge series is excellent, I have to admit that it has one drawback for me, and that's why I haven't gone back to reading the series. I just typed that, and now I'm feeling guilty about it-- because of a scene in A Duty to the Dead! LOL


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