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An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd (book review)

Goodreads Description

In the spring of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic spreads, killing millions of soldiers and civilians across the globe. Overwhelmed by the constant flow of wounded soldiers coming from the French front, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford must now contend with hundreds of influenza patients as well.

However, war and disease are not the only killers to strike. Bess discovers, concealed among the dead waiting for burial, the body of an officer who has been murdered. Though she is devoted to all her patients, this soldier’s death touches her deeply. Not only did the man serve in her father’s former regiment, he was also a family friend.

Before she can report the terrible news, Bess falls ill, the latest victim of the flu. By the time she recovers, the murdered officer has been buried, and the only other person who saw the body has hanged himself. Or did he?

Working her father’s connections in the military, Bess begins to piece together what little evidence she can find to unmask the elusive killer and see justice served. But she must be as vigilant as she is tenacious. With a determined killer on her heels, each move Bess makes could be her last.

Thursday Quotables Meme

Charles Todd’s WWI mystery stories is always a pleasure to read, and this book is no exception.
The cast of characters is top-notch as always. I enjoyed finding the returning cast again (I’m getting very fond of Simon) and also meeting quite a few new people, even if I had to say that the cast specific to this novel was quite scattered.

I choose this one because it started with the flu pandemic, though I quickly discovered the pandemic had very little to do with the story.
It is a more hectic story than the others I’ve read in this series. Here, Bess moves around quite a lot, between Sussex, France, Wales and a few other places. It isn’t confusing, and it is logic in the economy of the story, but I did find that it fragmented the experience, especially in comparison with other, more locally centred stories I’ve read in the series.

Though here I found the war experience more prominent, and I loved that. The setting of the French front totally got me. It was vivid that I almost felt I was there.

With all these good stuff, I was a bit disappointed with the mystery.
There were lots of red errings, and I feel that in the end, the solution almost came out of the blue. No one of those red errings led to the solution, and I found this a bit disappointing because it took cohesion out of the story, in my opinion.
I still enjoyed it. But I expected a bit more.
Anyway, I’ll never say this is not worth reading. It was an excellent historical novel, with a great cast of characters.

An Unmarked Grave

An Excerpt

I stopped just outside the ward and leaned my head against the cook wood of the doorframe. I couldn’t remember when last I slept, or, for that matter, eaten anything more than a few biscuits now and again with a hasty cup of tea.

The Spanish influenza had already cut down three of our nursing sisters, and two doctors were not expected to live through the night. The rest of us were struggling to keep men alive in the crowded ward and losing the battle hourly. Depressing to watch the bodies being carried out, one more soldier lost to an enemy we couldn’t even see.

It was an insidious killer, this influenza. I’d watched men in the best of health in the afternoon gasping for breath by the next morning, tossing with fever, lying too ill to speak, then fighting to draw a next breath. I’d watched nurses and orderlies work with patients for days on end without showing a single sign of illness, only to collapse unexpectedly and join the ranks of the dying. The young were particularly vulnerable. On the other hand, Private Wilson, closed to forty, seemed to be spared, even though he handled the dead, gently wrapping them in their soiled sheets and carrying them out to await interment. The shed just beyond the ward was filled with bodies, sometimes staked like timber. The burial details couldn’t keep up. And those men too were dying.

The influenza epidemic was already being spoken of as a twentieth-century plague, and no one was safe. I feared for my parents – there had been no word from Somerset for over a fortnight. Even Simon Brandon hadn’t written, and that was more worrying. Was he too ill? Or trying to find a way to tell me that the Colonel Sahib and my mother had died? Every post seemed to bring sad news to the wounded of the staff, and word was that people in Britain as well as France were dropping in the streets or dying before they could reach hospital, entire families wiped out. Matron had told me that the posts were delayed because so many of the censors had fallen ill and there was no one to take their place. Cold comfort, but all I had. And as time went on, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to hear.

AN UNMARKED GRAVE (Charles Todd) The fourth WWI Mystery in the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd is a solid historical novel with a great war setting

The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 14:59

    A thoughtful and detailed review! I think this is a well-written series, and does have a f eel for the era. I’m glad you found things to like about it.

    • Post Author
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 15:18

      It is indeed a great series. I love the setting, but I’ll go as far as to say that I love the characters even more.

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