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

( 115 )

Overview

Dedicated to helping the many wounded during the Great War, Bess Crawford receives a desperate request from a dying lieutenant while serving as a nurse aboard a hospital ship. "Tell my brother Jonathan that I lied," the young man says. "I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."

Back home in England, Bess receives an unexpected response from the dead soldier's family, for neither Jonathan Graham‚ his mother‚ nor his younger ...

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

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Overview

Dedicated to helping the many wounded during the Great War, Bess Crawford receives a desperate request from a dying lieutenant while serving as a nurse aboard a hospital ship. "Tell my brother Jonathan that I lied," the young man says. "I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."

Back home in England, Bess receives an unexpected response from the dead soldier's family, for neither Jonathan Graham‚ his mother‚ nor his younger brother admit to understanding what the message means.

But the Grahams are harboring a grim secret, and Bess must, somehow, get to the bottom of it. It is her sacred duty to the dead, no matter how painful, or dangerous, that obligation might be.

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Editorial Reviews

Margaret Maron
“This is a wonderful new mystery series that will let us see the horrors of World War I through the eyes of Bess Crawford, a battlefield nurse. A Duty to the Dead is a richly realistic depiction of both the era and people who lived through it.
New Mystery Reader
“The superb start of a new historical series....A welcome old-fashioned mystery and a brilliant start to a character with plenty more to discover in future books.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Another winner....Todd again excels at vivid atmosphere and the effects of war in this specific time and place. Grade: A.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Todd’s novels are known for compelling plotting with a thoughtful whodunit aspect, rich characterization, evocative prose and haunting atmosphere, and A Duty to the Dead excels at each. Another moving entry in a growing and distinguished body of work, it is neither easily put down nor easily forgotten.”
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
“A Duty to the Dead has all the elements of a good mystery—action, suspense, murder, love, a damsel in distress.”
Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
“A compelling story, a complex mystery and a revealing look deep into human nature.”
Romantic Times
“Full of rich historical details, this novel contrasts the beauty of the English countryside with the horrors of a war that devastated families....Absorbing.”
Iron Mountain Daily (Michigan)
“A tense psychological drama, steeped in the tragedy of the Great War.”
New York Times Book Review
“Readers who can’t get enough of Maisie Dobbs, the intrepid World War I battlefield nurse in Jacqueline Winspear’s novels, or Hester Latterly, who saw action in the Crimean War in a series of novels by Anne Perry, are bound to be caught up in the adventures of Bess Crawford.”
Washington Times on A Duty to the Dead
“The Todd books offer an insight into and a grim reminder of the avalanche of broken bodies and minds that came back from France in 1918 as well as a reminder of how little was done to restore them.”
Contra Costa Times on A Duty to the Dead
“An absorbing story that will not disappoint Todd’s fans.”
Evansville Courier & Press on A Duty to the Dead
“Here is a brave, smart and likable young heroine who will please Todd fans.”
Evansville Courier & Press on A Duty to the Dead
“Here is a brave, smart and likable young heroine who will please Todd fans.”
Washington Times on A Duty to the Dead
“The Todd books offer an insight into and a grim reminder of the avalanche of broken bodies and minds that came back from France in 1918 as well as a reminder of how little was done to restore them.”
Contra Costa Times on A Duty to the Dead
“An absorbing story that will not disappoint Todd’s fans.”
Marilyn Stasio
Readers who can't get enough of Maisie Dobbs, the intrepid World War I battlefield nurse in Jacqueline Winspear's novels, or Hester Latterly, who saw action in the Crimean War in a series of novels by Anne Perry, are bound to be caught up in the adventures of Bess Crawford, the courageous British army nurse introduced by Charles Todd in A Duty to the Dead. The strong-willed and self-determined daughter of a retired colonel, Bess shows her mettle when the hospital ship she's serving on hits a German mine and goes down off the coast of Greece in the fall of 1916.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The winning first in a new WWI series from the bestselling mother-son Todds (A Matter of Justice and 10 other Inspector Rutledge mysteries) introduces Bess Crawford, a resourceful British army nurse who's injured when her ship is sunk in 1916. While convalescing in England, Bess is tormented because she's put off delivering a message from Arthur Graham, a dying soldier under her care for whom she'd developed strong feelings, to his family. Her own brush with death prompts her to travel to Kent and transmit Arthur's cryptic last words to one of his three brothers. Bess becomes further enmeshed in the family's affairs after she learns the obscure message may relate to Graham's half-brother, Peregrine, who was committed to a local asylum for a girl's murder years before. The more Bess seeks to sate her curiosity, the more she suspects that the truth about the murder was suppressed. Fans of independent women sleuths like Maisie Dobbs will welcome this new addition to their ranks. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
"Tell Jonathan I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right." In this new historical series launch by the mother-son writing team (the Inspector Ian Rutledge series), Bess Crawford, a World War I nurse, attends a dying soldier who entrusts her with his last request. Arthur Graham insists the message be delivered in person to his brother. Considering a duty to the dead to be a sacred act, Bess, on leave after being herself wounded, makes her way to Kent to the Graham family estate. She delivers the message but is not convinced that Jonathan will honor it. So Bess begins to delve into the Grahams' scandalous secrets. As the threads of the family's past of insanity and murder begin to be revealed, Bess quickly realizes that life at home and at the front can be equally deadly. VERDICT Todd employs all the elements of a satisfying cozy mystery, with an absorbing plot and a charismatic heroine that will leave the reader wanting more. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 5/1/09.]—Susan O. Moritz, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD
Kirkus Reviews
World War I nurse keeps a burdensome promise. Relinquishing for the moment Inspector Ian Rutledge (A Matter of Justice, 2008, etc.), the Todd writing partnership presents Bess Crawford, invalided home when the hospital ship she nursed on is shot out from under her. She's bent on relaying a dying message-matters must be set right-from favored patient Arthur Graham to his brother Jonathan. Another matter, however, takes precedence for the Graham family: Peregrine, the Graham brother confined in an asylum since he was barely a teenager for murdering Lily the housemaid, is near death from pneumonia and needs nursing care. Providing it, Bess is struck by how rational Peregrine seems. Meanwhile, another village patient, a traumatized war victim who has fallen under her care, commits suicide-or does he? When Peregrine regains his strength, he takes Bess on the run to help him recover his memory of Lily's death. A visit to the village rector reveals several other fatal calamities over the years that cast suspicion on other Graham family members: clubfooted Timothy, Mrs. Graham and, to Bess's dismay, the late Arthur himself. A gruesome denouement lays bare all the family secrets and misalliances and releases Bess from her deathbed vow to Arthur. Will readers miss Inspector Rutledge? You bet. But anyone who cares to loll in early-20th century English villages and mores and follow a plucky heroine as she confronts the stupidity of war will find solace in this old-fashioned mystery.
Contra Costa Times
“An absorbing story that will not disappoint Todd’s fans.”
Evansville Courier & Press
“Here is a brave, smart and likable young heroine who will please Todd fans.”
Washington Times
“The Todd books offer an insight into and a grim reminder of the avalanche of broken bodies and minds that came back from France in 1918 as well as a reminder of how little was done to restore them.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061791772
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/17/2010
  • Series: Bess Crawford Series , #1
  • Pages: 335
  • Sales rank: 133,883
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Todd

Charles Todd is the author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live in Delaware and North Carolina, respectively.

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Read an Excerpt

A Duty to the Dead
A Bess Crawford Mystery

Chapter One

Tuesday, 21 November, 1916. 8:00 A.M.

At sea . . . This morning the sun is lovely and warm. All the portholes below are open, to allow what breeze there is to blow through the lower decks and air them. With no wounded onboard to keep us occupied, we are weary of one another's company. Beds are made up, kits readied, duties done. Since Gibraltar I've written to everyone I know, read all the books I could borrow, and even sketched the seabirds. Uneventful is the password of the day.

I lifted my pen from the paper and stared out across the blue water. I'd posted letters during our coaling stopover in Naples, and there wasn't much I could add about the journey since then. I'd already mentioned the fact that Greece was somewhere over the horizon and likely to stay there. Someone had sighted dolphins off the bow just after first light, and I'd mentioned that too. What else? Oh, yes.

We discovered a bird's nest in one of the lifeboats, no idea how long it had been there or if the hatching was successful. Or what variety of bird it might have been. Margaret, one of the nursing sisters, claimed it must surely be the Ancient Mariner's albatross, and we spent the next half hour trying to think what we should name our unknown guest. Choices ranged from Coleridge to the Kaiser, but my personal favorite was Alice in Wonderland.

I always tried to keep my letters cheerful, even when the wards were filled with wounded, and we were working late into the night, fighting to save the worst cases. My worries weren'tto be shared. At home and in the trenches, letters were a brief and welcome respite from war. It was better that way. And now we were in the Kea Channel, just off the Greek coast at Cape Sounion, and steaming toward our final destination at Lemnos. It was the collection point for wounded from Greek Macedonia, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. There, post could be sent on through the Army. I'd grown rather superstitious about writing to friends as often as I could. I'd learned too well just how precious time was, and how easily someone slipped away, dying days or weeks before I heard the news. My only consolation was that a letter might have reached them and made them smile a little while they were still living, or comforted them in their last hours. God knew, the Battle of the Somme over the summer had been such a bloodbath no one could say with any certainty how many men we'd lost. I could put a face to far too many names on those casualty lists. A gull flew up to land on the railing close by me, an eye fixed on me. Most were nearly tame, begging for handouts. In the distance, over the bird's shoulder, was a smudge that must be Kea. The sea here was a sparkling blue and calm, Britannic's frothy wake the only disturbance as far as the eye could see in any direction. Sailing between the island and the mainland was a shortcut that saved miles and miles of travel.

Or as Captain Bartlett had told me on my first voyage out, "Keep Cape Sounion on your left and Kea on your right, and you can't go wrong." And so I looked for it every voyage thereafter, like a marker in the sea.

One of Britannic's officers paused by my deck chair, and the gull took flight with an annoyed squawk. "I see you're already enjoying the morning air, Miss Crawford. The last time we passed through here, it was pouring rain. You could hardly see your hand before your face. Remember?"

Browning was sun browned, broad shouldered, and handsome in his uniform. We'd formed a friendship of sorts during the voyages out, flirting a little to pass the time. Neither of us took it seriously.

"Much pleasanter than France this time of year," I replied, smiling up at him. "No mud."

He laughed. "And no one firing at you. We should be safe as houses soon." "That's good to hear." But I knew he was lying. It was a game all of us played, pretending that German U-boats weren't a constant threat. Even hospital ships like Britannic were not safe from them, despite our white paint and great red crosses. They were said to believe that we hid fresh troops among the wounded or stowed munitions in the hold amongst the medical supplies. There was no truth to their suspicions, of course. And this channel was well traveled, always a temptation. For that matter, mines paid no heed to the nationality or purpose of the hull above them, when a vessel sailed too near. You couldn't dwell on it, or you'd live in fear.

He moved on, overseeing the change of the watch, and I capped my pen.

There was something about his laugh that reminded me of

Arthur Graham. When it caught me unawares, as it had done just now, the gates of memory opened and Arthur's face would come back to me.

During training, we'd been warned about letting ourselves care too much for our patients. "They are yours to comfort, yours to heal, but not yours to dream about," Matron had told us firmly. "Only foolish girls let themselves be drawn into romantic imaginings. See that you are not one of them."

Good advice. But Matron hadn't foreseen Arthur Graham. He'd been popular with the other wounded, the medical orderlies, and the nursing staff. It was impossible not to like him, and liking him, it was impossible not to feel something for him as he fought a gallant but losing battle with death. I wasn't foolish enough to believe it was love, but I was honest enough to admit I cared more than I should. I'd watched so many wounded die. Perhaps that was why I desperately wanted to see this one man snatch a victory out of defeat and restore my faith in the goodness of God. But it wasn't to be.

And truth be told, I had more than one reason for remembering Arthur Graham and his laugh. There was a promise I'd made. Freely.

If you gave your word so freely, my conscience argued, then why have you never kept your promise?

"There's been no opportunity!" I said the words aloud, then in embarrassment turned to see if anyone had overheard me.

Liar. You never made the time.

It isn't true-

You traveled through Kent on your last leave. You could have kept it then.

A Duty to the Dead
A Bess Crawford Mystery
. Copyright (c) by Charles Todd . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 115 )
Rating Distribution

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(51)

4 Star

(35)

3 Star

(18)

2 Star

(4)

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(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 116 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    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.

    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

    13 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    This is a new author for me, and I enjoyed it very much.  The st

    This is a new author for me, and I enjoyed it very much.  The story line left you guessing, I was particularly interested
    in how PTSD was treated in that era.  The main character, Bess, did not let up when obstacles got in 
    the way of finding out the truth.  I look forward to more from this author.  You will not be disappointed.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    A must read...

    A story based on time period of the Great War, it was very descriptive of the time. My interest was kept from beginning to end.
    You can see and feel how it was to live during that time frame. What was expected of women of the time. Bess Crawford is an independent woman who can think on her feet and solve mysteries. I immediately bought the next two in the series and am awaiting impatient;y for the fourth. Very nice read.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Suspense till the end

    Bess Crawford is that kick-butt relative you wish you had in your family tree. Right off the bat the author shows that Bess is not one to be underestimated. The author also shows how soldiers were treated back then with PTSD. But Bess was such a compelling character, never taking anything at face value and then just doing whatever the heck she was going to do anyway. Whether it was questioning a suicide as murder or helping an escaped mental patient she's going to do what she wants. Especially when she has her father's extremely loyal friend Simon Brandon always willing to protect her. (Though come on he is totally in love with her she's just really slow on the uptake). But I totally recommend this book and the rest of the series to anyone.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2012

    A good historical mystery

    I enjoyed reading this book. Takes you back to World War 1.
    There is some suspense especially at the end of the book. The
    lead character Bess is likeable and believable. I definately want
    to read the next book in this series.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2010

    A Mystery in line with Massie Dobbs series

    I have been a devoted reader of the Massie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. A Duty to the Dead is of the same genre. The heroine Bess Crawford is very likable. Hopefully there will be more in this series. The book held me from the beginning to the end. Well written. Very unusual that a mother and son would write such an engaging book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Good story.

    I had a little bit of a hard time getting into this book. Once I did, I found myself thinking of the characters when I wasn`reading. This was a new author for me. I will purchase another one of his books.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2010

    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 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.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Great start to a series.

    If you like a story set in England, read this. Todd incorporates the history of WW2
    with a family that is deceptive and cruel. You will be drawn into this story and won't let go until the end. Then, you will want more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2012

    A Duty to the Dead

    I read a lot of books and discovered this writer and Bess Crawford
    series much to my delight. I ordered all the complete series as they
    are very intriguing and suspense right down to the last few pages.
    I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    A Duty to the Dead

    Good read. This is my 1st Todd read but not my last. Worth the time. It isn't a Jacqueline Winspear but it does keep you turning the page.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2012

    Really Enjoyed This

    The stories, like the Ian Rutledge series by the same authors, are well written, with sympathetic characters and good plots. These take place during WWI in England. Bess Crawford is a nurse alternately at the front and back in England on leave. One character overlaps in both series. I liked these well enough to be reading my way through them and passing them on to a friend who also loves them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Brilliant

    I don't read a lot of historical fiction and I've never read anything by Charles Todd. After reading A Duty to the Dead, I have to say that I've been missing out. Todd is a brilliant writer. He weaves an old-fashioned mystery around a World War I nurse. Todd does a masterful job of immersing the reader in the characters' world. You will feel like you've stepped out of the 21st century and back into the early 1900s. A truly enjoyable read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Very enjoyable

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had a good mystery with some WWI history thrown in. Not too intense or gorey, but a very good story that kept me hooked until the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2014

    dm

    Excellent. Can't wait to read the next one.

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  • Posted May 29, 2014

    Well-written with a compelling lead character.  The mystery kept

    Well-written with a compelling lead character.  The mystery kept me guessing, while the historical settings and behaviors added another level of interest.  I look forward to reading more from this impressive writing team.  

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  • Posted March 28, 2014

    Very Interesting

    Enjoyed reading the first book in this series. Kept you guessing until the end. Good mystery. good history for WWI information.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    This is a marvelous book - the first in a series of 3.

    I loved this book and immediately purchased the next 2 in the series. It takes place during WWI, in France and England, and really makes the war real. We learn so much about how it affects everyday life. Of course it's a mystery......and I couldn't figure out who did it until revealed in the last chapter, always a sign of a good author. This is not a book to skim in a hurry, but one to savor!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    Great book!

    The novel starts with a shipwreck in the middle of World War I, but soon turns the heroine from a hospital ship nurse into a first class sleuth when she finally agrees to deliver a message from a dead soldier. While I was already a fan of the Ian Rutledge series by the author, I now look forward to more from this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2014

    Highly recommended.

    This is the second book I have read in this series and really enjoyed them and have ordered three more by this author in this series. I have passed them along to friend who also enjoy. We like the characters and the era the stories take place in and find them very interesting.

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