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Good Literature for Children & Adults

Bess Crawford Mystery Novels by Charles Todd

I had no idea when I read the early books by Charles Todd, the Ian Rutledge mystery novels, that “he” is in fact not only Charles Todd but also his mother, Caroline - a writing partnership that works very well.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War there are a number of recent books, fiction and non-fiction, about nurses in World War I, including a new installment in the Bess Crawford mystery series by the Todd’s.

I read some of the Ian Rutledge series several years ago and liked them but had not read any of the Bess Crawford mystery novels until recently. Picking up An Unmarked Grave I found myself enjoying what was the 4th novel in the Bess Crawford series, set in France during the First World War.

Bess Crawford is an intelligent and determined young woman – a privileged daughter who could easily have stayed at home knitting or making up bandages, but chose instead to train as a nurse and work with the troops near the front lines. By the spring of 1918 Bess is an experienced nurse who has seen a lot of action, she has proved herself able to handle the most difficult medical cases, and is trusted by the doctors to keep her cool under pressure.

But, these are murder mysteries after all not just novels about war and nurses, so it does not take long for the first corpse to appear who seems to have met his end not from a war wound but by the hand of a murderer. Bess cannot let it be – only the Spanish flu slows her down – and perhaps saves her life by forcing her to retreat for a time. These are cleverly plotted and well written novels, the character of Bess Crawford is appealing, as are her parents, her father a senior British officer with connections useful to Bess in her investigations.

After reading An Unmarked Grave I decided to read my way through the series, beginning with A Duty to the Dead introducing Bess Crawford on her return to England after the sinking of the HMHS Britannica. The descriptions of the sinking of the ship and the struggle of the passengers to survive are based on fact, our Bess one of those surviving with only a badly broken arm.

This is the fall of 1916 and Bess has already been at work in France for some time, she was accompanying wounded men back to England on the Britannica. One of the men she nursed left her with a message for his family – Arthur Graham begged her to personally relay the message to his brother – and as he died she promised to do so.

Meeting the Graham family Bess discovers that there are long held secrets haunting this family, and as she comes to know them she finds herself fearing that Arthur, who she had come to love, may not have been the faultless and brave young man she believed she knew. There is another brother who may have been falsely blamed for a murder that took place when all of the brothers were young boys.

Bess is determined to discover the truth – which of course she does before receiving her orders to return to France and to war – where I expect to find her again when I read the second in the series. Now that summer seems to have arrived this series makes for perfect dock reading.


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