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

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

by Charles Todd


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A spellbinding companion to Charles Todd’s New York Times Notable, Barry Award-winning, Edgar®, Dilys, Anthony, and John Creasy Awards-nominated Ian Rutledge novels, A Duty to the Dead introduces readers to an unforgettable new protagonist—Bess Crawford, courageous World War I nurse and determined investigator. Once again the New York Times bestselling author brilliantly evokes post-Great War Europe, casting an indomitable heroine into a simmering cauldron of village secrets, family intrigues, and murder. A Duty to the Dead is another superb demonstration of the exceptional abilities of a master whose novel A Test of Wills was named one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

From the brilliantly imaginative New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd comes an unforgettable new character in an exceptional new series

England, 1916. Independent-minded Bess Crawford's upbringing is far different from that of the usual upper-middle-class British gentlewoman. Growing up in India, she learned the importance of responsibility, honor, and duty from her offi­cer father. At the outbreak of World War I, she followed in his footsteps and volunteered for the nursing corps, serving from the battlefields of France to the doomed hospital ship Britannic.

On one voyage, Bess grows fond of the young, gravely wounded Lieutenant Arthur Graham. Something rests heavily on his conscience, and to give him a little peace as he dies, she promises to deliver a message to his brother. It is some months before she can carry out this duty, and when she's next in England, she herself is recovering from a wound.

When Bess arrives at the Graham house in Kent, Jonathan Graham listens to his brother's last wishes with surprising indifference. Neither his mother nor his brother Timothy seems to think it has any significance. Unsettled by this, Bess is about to take her leave when sudden tragedy envelops her. She quickly discovers that fulfilling this duty to the dead has thrust her into a maelstrom of intrigue and murder that will endanger her own life and test her courage as not even war has.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061791772
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/17/2010
Series: Bess Crawford Series , #1
Pages: 335
Sales rank: 82,125
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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. Among the honors accorded to the Ian Rutledge mysteries are the Barry Award and nominations for the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s Dilys Award, the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the U.S., and the John Creasey Award in the UK. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

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.

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.

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Duty to the Dead 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 153 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.
mikedraper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bess Crawford is a nurse in WWI. She's on the red cross ship, Britannic when it hits a mine and sinks, killing thirty men. Bess breaks her arm in the explosion and is given leave to recouperate.Bess had cared for a wounded man named Ambrose Graham. He was a lieutenant, wounded in the leg. The injury turned septic and he died. In one of his talks with Bess, he asked her to deliver a message to his brother. "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."Bess travels to Kent and gives Jonathan the message. Neither he nor his mother know what to make of it. Jonathan is home from the war with an injury and waiting to be well enough to return to the front. Bess also meets Jonathan's brother, Tim who has a club foot and is medically unfit for duty. She's also told of a brother, Peregrine, who is older and institutionalized. In addition, Bess meets their cousin, Robert Douglas.Peregrine has caught pnemonia and cannot be cared for in the institution so is sent home and Bess volunteers to care for him. However, Mrs. Graham warns Bess that Peregrene murdered someone when he was just a teenager and not in his right mind when he did it. Another veteran was in Kent, attempting to recover from shell shock. Bess cares for him also. He seems to be recovering but then, supposidly, commits suicide.When Bess returns to London, she is surprised to learn that Peregrine has escaped and he wants her help to learn about the facts of the killing. They investigate together while he keeps in the background.This is an excellent story. Bess is a well described character. The plot is interesting and the setting believable. A very enjoyable read.
arielfl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book Club girl recommended this series for anyone who enjoyed the Mad for Maisie read along held a few months back. I was indeed "Mad for Maisie" and have since received the ARC for the latest book in this series A Bitter Truth but it's on the to be read pile as I have opted to read this series in sequence. In this book we meet Bess Crawford who is serving as a nurse, like Maisie Dobbs during the Great War, WWI. Bess even has her own Simon like Maisie though Bess Crawford's Simon is not shell shocked. Unlike Maisie, Bess is not a professional detective. Bess is drawn into the mystery by a message given to her by a dying soldier and friend. "Tell Jonathan I lied, I did it to protect mother." she is told by Arthur Graham. After Bess is injured she sets out to deliver the message and when she can see all is not as it should be, she sets out to uncover it's meaning. The conclusion puts all of the wrongs right and wraps up the story in a most satisfying way.One thing I really loved about this book is the non stop action. The book starts off with a bang with the sinking of the hospital ship Britannica on which Bess is a passenger and it never let's up. The book kept me turning the pages and I never wanted to put it down. All of the supporting characters were well drawn and I cared about everyone in the book, especially Bess. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first of a new series for me. If you're a Maisie Dobbs fan, you'll love these featuring WWI nurse Bess Crawford. This one gives us Bess nursing wounded soldiers on the converted ocean liner Britannica when it is torpedoed by the Germans. She makes a promise to a dying soldier to carry a message to his brother when she returns to England, but is curious to understand what the message means. When she meets with apparent indifference to the dying son/brother's wishes by his mother and brother, she sets out to determine what exactly he meant and what wrong he apparently wanted to right.It's going to be a good series. Bess Crawford is an independent, educated, and forward marching woman and I suspect this series is going to carry us through all the social changes that occured in England because of the loss of so many men during the war. I can't wait to read some more in this series.
smik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first of Todd's Bess Crawford novels, and I found it very readable. While the well-established, still continuing, Ian Rutledge series is set after World War One, the Bess Crawford novels are set in the war itself. A second novel in the series, IMPARTIAL WITNESS, was published in 2010.The authors are without doubt drawing on a comprehensive knowledge of the impact of World War One on British soldiers in particular in both series.A DUTY TO THE DEAD has a cosy feel about it, but at the same time it reminded me in style of novels I read back in the 70s by Victoria Holt and Susan Howatch.Some readers may feel that the setting, the time frame, and the female sleuth are improbable, but it is a scenario that Jacqueline Winspear has explored in the Maisie Dobbs series, admittedly setting her first novel just over a decade later.I certainly liked A DUTY TO THE DEAD well enough to look for the next in the series.
LiteraryFeline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my first Charles Todd book and I was quite impressed. I especially enjoyed the historical setting and getting to know the main character, Bess Crawford. I liked her right from the start and look forward to reading future novels in the series. A Duty to the Dead had me turning pages at breakneck speed to find out what happened next.
BookBully on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First let me say that I am a huge fan of the Ian Rutledge mysteries. The Charles Todd mother and son team does a wonderful job with a flawed, intriguing character, fast pacing and great story lines.Alas, I cannot say the same for the first in what appears to be a new series featuring WW1 nurse, Bess Crawford. If "A Duty to the Dead" is any indication, it's going to be a very slow and bumpy ride.The story begins with a delicious premise: as he lay dying, Arthur Graham extracted a promise from nurse Bess. She must deliver a message to his brother, Jonathan, that speaks to a bad mistake from the past which needs to be made right. While on medical leave from her post, Bess makes the journey north of England to fulfill her promise to Arthur. At this point the authors throw in a bit of "Jane Eyre" coupled with family/village intrigue. By the middle of the book I was looking for any excuse to take a break, a quest that never happens when I'm reading about one of Rutledge's exploits. The book was moving at the speed of solid wood.In my opinion, most of the fault lies with Bess' character. To put it simply, she's boring. Periodically, someone will tell her something along the lines of, "You're very blunt, you know..." as if this elevates her to mesmerizing status. It doesn't and she definitely isn't.Please, please Mum and Chuck: don't abandon Ian and Hamish. If you must, let Bess pop up as a secondary character but don't let her stay at the forefront.
Laukahi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In A Duty to the Dead, Bess Crawford -- a nurse on leave from her duties during WWI -- sets out to fulfill the dying wish of a soldier she cared for. Instead, Bess uncovers a mystery: why does the soldier's family seem to ignore his wish? This is not a quasi-procedural like Todd's Inspector Rutledge series; Bess does not solve the mystery so much as she provokes a climax. However, the story is well paced and suspenseful, and perhaps because Todd tells this story in the first person, Bess is a less remote protagonist than Ian Rutledge. Like the rest of Todd's mysteries, the story is dark -- with more Gothic overtones than usual -- but gripping.
eawsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first encounter with Charles Todd's work, and I was happy to make the acquaintance. I am now anxious to read other books by this author, to see if they are as well written as this one.The story centers around Bess Crawford, a British nurse in World War I who is on the hospital ship Brittanic when it is sunk; Bess incurs a broken arm during the sinking and is sent home to recuperate. While on leave, she sets out to fulfill a promise she made to one of her patients to carry a message home to his family after his death. Doing so involves her in a household full of deception and conspiracy designed to protect one of her patients' three brothers. The question is, which one? Along the way in her quest to find the truth, Bess takes one of the brothers into her care, one who happens to have escaped from a nearby asylum where he was sent at the age of 14 after allegedly killing a maid. Her experience with the man leads her to believe he was not guilty as charged, and her "duty to the dead" brother compels her to try to find out who was responsible. While I was fairly certain of the identity of the real culprit, there were plenty of twists and turns in the plotting to keep up the suspense. This was a well-written book which presents an interesting and complex story with a heroine who cares about people around her. I will be watching for future books featuring Bess Crawford!
Darcia on LibraryThing 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.
MurderMysteryMayhem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It¿s 1916 and Bess Crawford, a WWI British army nurse, becomes embroiled in old family secrets and a fresh death when she delivers the last words of Lieutenant Arthur Graham to his brother Jonathan. Bess had delayed carrying out this duty fearing Arthur¿s cryptic message might alter her fond memories. She had let herself care too much for this particular soldier.When Bess becomes injured she returns to London to recuperate, her conscience prodding her to deliver the message in person as she¿d promised. Arriving in Kent Bess finds the Grahams to be not quite what she had expected. They are complicated, secretive, and extremely reluctant to honor Arthur Graham¿s last request.Independent Bess, very reminiscent of Jacqueline Winspear¿s Masie Dobbs, is pressed into duty by the local doctor, and soon finds herself nursing the Graham¿s darkest family secret. Could Arthur¿s message be related? Bess can¿t resist finding out, she's honor bound to reveal the truth, and once she starts chatting up the locals she becomes involved in something far more dangerous than she ever imagined.If you love old-fashioned historical mysteries you¿ll love A Duty to the Dead, loads of period detail, a smart and spunky heroine, and a smattering of dead bodies. What more could you ask for?
MuseofIre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting new series from Charles Todd, still mining the psychological effects of WWI on the participants. Bess Crawford is a plucky and sympathetic character, and overall the book is an enjoyable read. However, Todd at times seems as hampered by period social conventions as his heroine. The central mystery is easily penetrated, and once you've done that it's not hard to guess the perpetrator -- although I confess Todd made me waver in my conviction once or twice. The ultimate explanation for the crime rings somewhat false.
m4marya on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up because I love this time period. England during WWI is such an interesting time. I also am find of female protagonists. The story was well written there is no doubt about that. The writing team of Charles Todd has definite skills. However the tale and the systery were a bit predictable, and Bess, was very uninteresting. I was hoping for more from her, but instead found a very dry, character who had an interesting past--she was no Maisie Dobbs or Jade Cameron.