My April book for the The WWI Challenge was A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd, a mystery novel set (mostly) in England while the war was still going on. Heroine Bess Crawford is the daughter of a colonel in the British Army, who grew up in India and other farflung places before returning to England. When the novel opens, she’s been serving as a nurse on a hospital ship.
I really liked this little slice-of-life excerpt from the very beginning:
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.
I also liked this little bit of information, which tied in to reading I did on nursing in the Crimean War:
Barbara was older than most of us, an experienced nursing sister before the war had begun in 1914. She had told me once that her family had been horrified when she decided to train as a nurse. Now, with the war on, it was socially acceptable to tend the wounded. But not then, not a woman of her class, not in 1905.
After Bess returns to England with an injury, she must carry a message from one of her deceased patients to his brother. The brother is temporarily home from the army because of a wound, so she travels to meet his family. There are three remaining brothers altogether, one of whom could not serve in the military because of a club foot, and a half-brother whom no one will talk about. There’s also, in the past, a murder that no one seems to know much about. Bess is drawn into the mystery and begins to search out the true facts, through questioning the local inhabitants and with a little help from her father’s assistant, Simon, and an older female relative, both secondary characters I’d be happy to see again in subsequent books (the series is still ongoing). The plot was notable for how my perception of the past events would change with each new revelation.
Though the overall tone was dark and serious, there were still touches of humor, which I really appreciated.
Women had been warned that they must do their part against the Hun. That they must sacrifice their men, their comfort, their necessities, and anything that brought them pleasure. That included most foodstuffs. God knew what even the chef at such a restaurant could do with the only cuts of meat available in wartime.
…I’d been right. The mutton was as old as the Kaiser and nearly as difficult, but the wine sauce was exquisite.
I had read a couple of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge series, but I think I like Bess Crawford even better. I particularly liked the way the authors portrayed differing “home front” opinions- one character suffered from shell shock, another was unable to serve due to a physical issue, and both had to face criticism. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.