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A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford Series #1)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

13 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

Charles Todd has started another winning historical mystery series.

In 1916, British army nurse Bess Crawford is injured when the hospital ship she is on is hit. However while she recovers she promised dying soldier Arthur Graham she would deliver his last words to his brother Jonathan that he lied for their mother's sake.

Believi...
In 1916, British army nurse Bess Crawford is injured when the hospital ship she is on is hit. However while she recovers she promised dying soldier Arthur Graham she would deliver his last words to his brother Jonathan that he lied for their mother's sake.

Believing strongly she owes A DUTY TO THE DEAD, Bess heads to Kent to transmit the message. She learns that another brother of Arthur, Peregrine, has been locked up in an asylum since he was a young teen for murdering the housemaid; he is also dying from pneumonia and desperately needs expert nursing; Bess agrees to provide it and after spending some time with her new patient concludes he is sane though he has selective amnesia not recalling the tragedy that condemned him. As she tends to Peregrine, another patient of hers commits suicide, but something about the death disturbs Bess. When Peregrine recovers much of his health, he flees taking Bess with him as he tries to regain his lost memory of what happened to Lily. Bess further learns of other suspicious deaths since Peregrine was locked away that makes her suspect other family members including her favorite patient, the late Arthur.

Although Inspector Rutledge takes a needed rest, fans will enjoy this strong WWI village amateur sleuth starring a spunky lead character, reminiscent of Winspear's Maisie Dobbs early years, caught in the middle of a family drama. The story line brings out the horrors of war through Bess' ailing and dying patients while the whodunit is cleverly devised so the audience and the nurse will keep guessing until the climax. Charles Todd has started another winning historical mystery series.

Harriet Klausner

posted by harstan on August 15, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

Mother/son writing team debut new character

I find it odd that a mother/son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States have chosen to tell stories about England in the early 1900s, however they seem to make it work. Writing under the pen name Charles Todd, this duo has a bestselling series about...
I find it odd that a mother/son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States have chosen to tell stories about England in the early 1900s, however they seem to make it work. Writing under the pen name Charles Todd, this duo has a bestselling series about Ian Rutledge and is venturing out with a new character, war nurse Bess Crawford in "A Duty to the Dead."
Bess is on active duty during WWI on a hospital ship when a dying soldier makes her promise to take a message back to his family, "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right," he tells her.
Soon after, the ship she is on is sunk by a mine and Bess makes it out alive, although suffering from a broken arm. During her convalescence she decides she needs to deliver the dying soldier's message to its rightful recipient. Bess's father, a highly decorated retired soldier, worries about her injuries, as well as her wanting to carry out her new mission. Against her father's wishes, Bess travels by train to the town where the family lives, then is taken by horse drawn carriage to their home.
Upon arriving, she is taken directly to her room, where she retires for the evening. The next day she meets the dead soldier's mother as well as two of his three brothers. She decides to wait until she can speak with his brother Jonathan privately to deliver the message. While waiting for the appropriate moment, she finds much time to roam around the town and meet various townfolk. She loves to talk, and tries to gather background on the soldier's family as she meets people. She also gets dragged into a situation where the local doctor is treating a wounded soldier who has returned home and is suffering from shell shock.
When Bess finally is able to deliver her message, Jonathan acts like he has no idea what it means. Bess is disappointed to have gone through all this for naught, and decides to leave the following day. However, as fate would have it, the third brother falls sick and is sent home from the mental asylum where he had been institutionalized since childhood, in order to die in his home. Bess ends up staying on to make sure he dies comfortably.
Bess ends up nursing this brother back to health, beyond anyone's expectations, and when he is lucid he tells her things that pique her curiosity and make her decide to begin an investigation into what the dying soldier really meant with his message.
An extremely slow-starting story, this turned out to be worth the read. I would hope that in further installations of this character, the author(s) would get to the point of the story much more quickly, as the real mystery of this book didn't reveal itself until over halfway through.

posted by mandersj on April 12, 2010

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