Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

England, 1916-17


A Duty to the Dead

by Charles Todd

This book introduces a new series about Bess Crawford, a member of the World War I nursing corps. It is noted that with the war on, it now was socially acceptable for upper middle class women like Bess to receive medical training and tend to the wounded.

We first encounter Bess as she is forced to abandoned her hospital ship, the Britannic, hit by a sea mine off the coast of Greece, an event which is dramatically described in the book. A broken arm forces her to return to England where her sense of duty leads her to follow up on a promise she gave to a dying soldier to deliver a message to his brother. The result is her involvement with his family and the uncovering of past secrets and intrigues.

The authors, a mother and son team, continue their use of the English World War I homefront as background for their stories. (see our review of The Murder Stone featuring another female character). They vividly describe the psychological wounds of war. Women are forced to fill the shoes of men who leave, one by one, to go off to fight. Returning soldiers bear too many wounds. Some families must cope with the mood swings of those who have been discharged because of shell shock. Food shortages and fears of zeppelin raids add to the stress, compounded by the fact that England seems to be losing the war. “The killing will go on and on,” Bess thinks, when, at the book’s end, she returns to duty in France.



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