Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd (book review)

A Duty To The Dead (Bess Crawford #1) by Charles Todd

He cleared his throat, in that way he had to put things behind them. “As for the message. Would you like to tell me what it is, and let me judge?”

I considered his suggestion, realizing that it was exactly what I wanted to do. I took a deep breath, trying to keep my voice steady. “I had to repeat the words two or three times, to be certain I knew them by heart. ‘Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.’”

My father frowned. “And that’s it?”

“Yes. In a nutshell.” I was tense, waiting. Afraid that he might read something in the words that I hadn’t.

“I don’t see that there’s been any harm done, waiting until now to pass it on to his brother,” he replied slowly. “But you have a responsibility not to put it off again. A duty to the dead is sacred, I needn’t tell you that.”

I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. I repeated the words in my head. I couldn’t tell my father that with time those words had become sinister. It was only my imagination running rampant, of course. Still, I was relieved that he found them unremarkable.

Thursday Quotables Meme

The first novel in the long-standing Bess Crawford WWI Mystery series and such a discovery!

Bess is a battlefield nurse, daughter to a colonel of the English Army. She has a strong heart, as her’ army family’ requires, but also a very gentle soul, as her profession requires. I loved this mix of strong traits and gentle ones because I find they are very rare to come by. Late trends with female characters are to make them strong by making the masculine. Bess is strong, but she is also very feminine, very caring. She’s determined, intuitive, brave and has a strong sense of duty. She’s a fantastic character.

The story starts with an idea that immediately intrigued me. Bess assisted a wounded officer as part of her duty. They became very intimate as the officer seemed on the mend. Then a vicious infection doomed him. Before dying, Arthur asked of Bess to bring a message to his brother.
Bess promised, but then she couldn’t carry it out until, wounded herself during the sinking of the hospital ship, she went on leave to rest and mend.
She then travels to Kent, to Arthur’s estate and family, a place ripe with secrets. Things become even more complicated when Arthur’s older brother, Peregrine, who’s been committed to an asylum for the past fifteen years, is brought home – presumably to die with pneumonia. Bess offers to assist him, and he unexpectedly survives. The thing is, when he comes to and can speak to Bess, he doesn’t sound a madman at all.

I was conquered by this premise, which was only the first step in a very complex, but totally believable mystery. Bess moves from one clue to another with logic, which is something I always appreciate in a mystery and not always find.

Charles Todd is a nom de plume for a mother-and-son team of writers, and it’s soon clear that they know what they’re talking about. The historical setting is one of the best I’ve read. It involves the army, the war, the fieldwork of nurses, the rhythms of war, as well as everyday life in England in the late 1910s. It isn’t simple to pull off, but they succeed beautifully.
I truly, truly enjoyed it.

But the true jewels of the book are the characters. Bess is fantastic, but she also has a remarkable family. Her father, a colonel of the English Army who lived in India for a long time (Bess has fond memories of her childhood in India), is a man of strong personality and sense of duty – just like her. Her mother doesn’t appear here and still manages to make a great impression. Her aunt briefly appears and is immediately apparent she’s a truly formidable personality. I get a feeling that these will be recurring characters in the series, and I can’t wait to meet them again.
The Graham family also offers some remarkable characters, starting with Peregrine, a tragic, endearing character. He starts off convinced that he did kill a woman as a boy, what he wants to know is why, because he can’t remember.
The community of the place where the Grahams live comes off the page as a true community, not as a gathering of characters, if you know what I mean. I felt as if I spent a lot of time in that place, rather than reading (or listening, as it was) to a story.

Yes, I did listen to this story, a full cast reading that was in itself such an awesome experience. If you have a mind to read this story, do try the audiobook. Fantastic!

In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies

A DUTY TO THE DEAD (Charles Todd) Arthur wasn't just a patient, he was special to Bess, and when on his deathbed he asks a favour of her, she can't deny it. He asks her to bring a message to his brother so to righten a wrong. When Bess comes to the Graham estate, she finds herself in a deep mystery she can't just ignore.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 01:12

    This is a great series, isn’t it, Sarah? I’m so glad you’e discovered it. I like the Bess Crawford character a great deal, and I think the ‘Charles Todd’ writing team does a very effective job of conveying time and place. If you get the time, you may want to try the Todd team’s Ian Rutledge novels, too (they take place during the same era), and see what you think.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 12, 2019 at 08:36

      Margot, I’m already reading the second book in the series. I won’t say any more ;-)
      I love all about this series: the characters, the mysteries and really I don’t think I’ve ever read a better WWI setting. It’s fantastic!

      You’re not the first to recommand me the Ian Rutledge books. I’ve considered them before, but now I really want to read them.

  • Melissa Wiebe
    Posted May 19, 2020 at 08:59

    Can you give me a full plot summary of the book? I don’t understand it.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 19, 2020 at 11:19

      It is a murder mystery. Wouldn’t you rather read it? ;-)

Leave a comment

Captcha loading...