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

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

4.0 129
by Charles Todd

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“Another winner....Todd again excels at vivid atmosphere and the effects of war in this specific time and place. Grade: A.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer


“Readers who can’t get enough of Maisie Dobbs, the intrepid World War I battlefield nurse in Jacqueline Winspear’s novels…are bound to be caught up


“Another winner....Todd again excels at vivid atmosphere and the effects of war in this specific time and place. Grade: A.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer


“Readers who can’t get enough of Maisie Dobbs, the intrepid World War I battlefield nurse in Jacqueline Winspear’s novels…are bound to be caught up in the adventures of Bess Crawford.”
New York Times Book Review


Charles Todd, author of the resoundingly acclaimed Ian Rutledge crime novels (“One of the best historical series being written today” —Washington Post Book World) debuts an exceptional new protagonist, World War I nurse Bess Crawford, in A Duty to the Dead. A gripping tale of perilous obligations and dark family secrets in the shadows of a nightmarish time of global conflict, A Duty to the Dead is rich in suspense, surprise, and the impeccable period atmosphere that has become a Charles Todd trademark.

Editorial Reviews

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.”
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.”
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.
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.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Bess Crawford Series , #1
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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.

What People are Saying About This

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.

Meet the Author

Charles Todd is the New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

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Duty to the Dead 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 129 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
cozymysteryloverSS More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
MidMom More than 1 year ago
This was unremarkable. I do like the era depicted, a time of wartime social change, but something was off about how the character described her thoughts. A lot of action was sort of told after the fact or just seemed that way. The plot and motivations just did not ring true, thus arousing the suspicions of the narrating character. The discovered explanations for various actions don't seem overly credible either. Very damaged family and local characters just don't seem realistic in some of their interactions. It can't all be put down to bad manners and the emotional repression of the times either. Some of it is just confused plot structure.
pianotshr More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
MarySharon More than 1 year ago
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.
BookAddictFL More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MMRED More than 1 year ago
This is very different than I usually read. I loved it and will recommend it to other readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Author duo does a fine job of inserting the characters within a fascinating time and place. It is obviously well researched with a strong historical backbone, and that is the main draw. At times, other devices utilized just don't quite cut it. There are what seems like dozens of unnecessary trips here and fro. The same thing can be said for the multiple questions that the author rapid fires, serving to wear the reader out. An abrupt, suspension of disbelief ending doesn't quite hit the mark. The Maise Dobbs historical mystery series does better in all aspects.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a borrow as is other in series support your local free libraries and they have bought it book unread is of no profit to author library book may peak an interest to buy or at least ask library for next ever see what is on barnes and noble sales table or on the three for one at walmart?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
So, on the surface this isn't my usual fair but I thoroughly enjoyed this wartime mystery starring strong-willed, intelligent nurse Bess Crawford. The fact that the female lead/protagonist didn't swoon for every male she encountered was a breath of fresh air. The WWI scenery was done very well and I look forward to reading the next in the series and more by the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read. Moving on, book two is calling......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
Set in England during WWI. Great character development. Well written and well edited. Good story with twists and turns regarding who done it. My only criticism would be that it became a bit repetitive at times. I felt as if I was re-reading some of the text. I thought that the author could have come to the point in a more timely manner. That being said, overall, it was a great book and I plan to read the entire series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the 1st book- want to read the rest!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honest Review- No Spoilers: I'll start by saying I could NOT get into this book at all from the beginning. I thought I got pretty far into it and still didn't like it. My determination to finish it was much like Bess Crawford's determination for the truth in the book. At the end of the book I can say I did throughout enjoy it and even shed a tear of joy for the ending.  I really enjoyed Bess & her instincts and her character all together. If I were to recommend the book to someone I'd recommend it to anyone with a day to waste and enjoy. It took too much to get into to recommend to someone read on an occasional basis. If they don't care about the first chapters... then go for it! It really is a great book. I really enjoyed it. I clutched to a previous review that said it took some getting into and I'm REALLY GLAD I did. Turned out to be a very good book. I've never read any other books by this author so I don't know if I will read another. It was good enough that I would if the opportunity struck - but I'm not going to go seeking for one.  Setting of WWI Europe did have me thinking a little more (as did the many characters) as I'm used to 2014 USA terminology. Many characters wasn't too much to handle... kind of going to someone's house or party and trying to remember everything- not too hard but gonna make you think. 
BookLoverCT More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed all of the books by Charles Todd. His Inspector Ian Rutledge series, with WWI as a background location have been exciting. Now this A Duty to the Dead, features Bess Crawford, a WWI battlefield nurse. The stories, as the characters are believable.