Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Duty to the Dead: Charles Todd

For me, the main attraction of this book is the picture it gives us of life during World War I in England. The main character, Bess Crawford, is a nurse on the Britannic, a hospital ship, when it sinks. She survives, but an injury forces her return to England on leave. Each new book that I read about World War I or World War II leads me to new knowledge about those time periods and events.  I had no knowledge of hospital ships and know little about women's roles in those conflicts.  I did not know that the Britannic was a sister ship to the Titanic and that she also sank.

Bess has experienced nursing many men injured in the fighting and watching men die of horrible wounds. She is not a part of the fighting but she has been close enough to see the horrors that the soldiers have to experience. The author uses Bess's experiences to contrast with those at home who cannot sympathize with what the men have experienced in war.

After recovering from an injury incurred during the sinking of the ship, Bess is allowed to go home on leave, and plans to follow up on a request by a soldier to deliver a message to his family.  She had grown close to the soldier, and she ends up getting involved with his family. Her dedication in her nursing career gets her more and more deeply involved.

Did I like this book? My opinion is in the lukewarm range. The mystery itself was not compelling, but I did enjoy the story. It was more psychological suspense than whodunit. The actual crime committed is not clear until deep into the story. The writing was too slow for me, but I persevered and was rewarded. Several reviews described it as an old-fashioned mystery, and I suppose that fits with the time and setting. I found it somewhat unbelievable that the protagonist is able to successfully investigate the mysteries she is confronted with and that her family would (reluctantly) support her in this. But I don't usually require that mysteries be totally realistic and believable. Most interesting novels are not realistic, but take us to a place we haven't been.

Charles Todd is the pseudonym for a mother and son writing team. They have written three other books for this series (one to be published in June 2012) and also have written an earlier series about Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard Inspector suffering from shell shock following World War I. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is similar, although Maisie comes from the lower classes and that series takes place after World War I. I have read the first book in all of these series and I plan to read more of them.  So far I like the Maisie Dobbs series best.

This is an in-depth review of  A Duty to the Dead, with more background on the authors. A little warning: It has more detail about the plot than I like to know before reading a book.
At Open Letters Monthly.

Reading this book has inspired me to learn more about nurses in World War I and hospital ships in general.
  • This review at lists other fiction set in this period and resources for more information on the Britannic.
  • The website for the Women in World History Curriculum has reviews of many historical mysteries featuring women. Here is a review for A Duty to the Dead.
This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Challenge
1st in a Series Challenge
Merely Mystery Reading Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
World War I Reading Challenge

This book has been been on my TBR pile for about a year. But I was motivated to read it at this time by the 2012 reading challenge at War Through the Generations. I cannot say enough good things about this site. Not only does it encourage reading about history and war, providing lists of resources for both non-fiction and fiction books, it allows participation.

1 comment:

Peggy Ann said...

Wonderful post and you have inspired me to get this book! Thanks