A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – WWI Challenge

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.

Published by Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s writing showcases her voracious lifelong love of books. She reads over 120 new books each year, especially historical romance, fantasy, and space opera, and incorporates these genres into her erotic fiction. Her first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. When not writing, Victoria conducts research in libraries and graveyards, lectures about writing and selling erotica, and speaks at literary conventions on topics such as paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic science fiction/fantasy, and the empowerment of women through unconventional means. Her daily writing blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and author interviews. She also guest blogs for Heroes & Heartbreakers and The Criminal Element. She lives in Philadelphia.

2 replies on “A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – WWI Challenge”

  1. I love this review – and I agree with you on the humor in the book and on the differing home front views. I really enjoyed that as well. I’m running a read along of the entire Bess Crawford series on my blog right now, we’re discussing An Impartial Witness this week and A Bitter Truth on May 29th. Join us if you can and congratulations on your new book as well!

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