A DUTY TO THE DEAD by Charles Todd

Book Quote:

“It does you credit to want to set the world to rights, my dear, but…I see no point in investigating a tragedy that lies in the past where it belongs. Fifteen years is a long time, witnesses die, attitudes change, and it is almost impossible to make a judgment on new facts when the old ones can’t be reconstructed.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (OCT 5, 2009)

A Duty to the Dead, by the mother-and son writing team known as Charles Todd, opens in 1916 on a hospital ship, Britannic, that is sailing off the coast of Greece. Elizabeth Crawford is a nurse stationed on the ship, who has worked tirelessly tending to the British casualties of World War I. Some of the soldiers in her care suffer from severe mental and/or physical wounds, and many do not pull through. Bess’s work has toughened her up considerably; however, she remains an extremely sensitive and compassionate woman. Against her better judgment, she develops strong feelings for an injured soldier named Arthur Graham. On his deathbed, Arthur begs Bess to deliver an important message to his brother in Kent. After putting off the task for a while, Bess finally finds the time to visit Arthur’s relatives.

Much to her consternation, Bess discovers that the Graham family is dysfunctional, if not delusional. Mrs. Graham, the widowed mother of three boys, is brusque and bossy; her cousin, Robert, has the run of the house, but rarely expresses a personal opinion; Jonathan, a lieutenant who is recovering from a severe facial wound, is blunt and prickly; and Timothy has a clubfoot that has kept him out of battle. Most troubling of all is the fate of another brother, Peregrine, who for fifteen years has been locked up in an asylum after allegedly butchering a housemaid when he was a teenager. Rather than see him hang for his crime, Peregrine’s mother arranges for him to be kept under lock and key for the rest of his life. Bess soon suspects that the Grahams are withholding key information, but she has no hard evidence to support her theory.

Bess Crawford is one of those formidable “stiff-upper-lip” individuals who is intolerant of liars and makes no excuses for herself or others. Whether she is nursing a patient with pneumonia, calming a shell-shocked veteran, or conducting an investigation that may shed light on the past, Bess is courageous, highly intelligent, keenly observant, and not too concerned about her own safety. Her father, Richard Crawford, is a career army officer who is appalled but unsurprised at his daughter’s rashness. Bess has always been fiercely independent and determined to finish what she starts, no matter how difficult the task.

The authors skillfully evoke the bleak atmosphere of wartime England when all able-bodied men are shipped to the front. Even those who survive often return disfigured or so severely traumatized that they can no longer function in society. In addition, Todd vividly portrays the insular life of a small village where the rector does his own carpentry, everyone gossips about their neighbors, and long-buried secrets are difficult to unearth. A resolute Bess not only spends her own time and money conducting a lengthy investigation, but she also endangers herself to help someone who may be an innocent victim of a vicious conspiracy. A Duty to the Dead is a strong work of historical fiction that forcefully depicts the horrors of war and illustrates the terrible consequences of covering up the truth for all the wrong reasons.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 82 readers
PUBLISHER: William Morrow (August 25, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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October 5, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  В· Posted in: Facing History, Mystery/Suspense

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