" Your concern does you credit, my dear. A duty to the dead is a sacred matter."
As I mentioned in a previous blog one of the great things about working in a bookstore is the chance to grab an advance copy of books when they come in. For especially if it a mystery or horror(sadly,though they don't seem to send science fiction ones out).
Now I have always has a love of mysteries. The the first ones I have read when I was a kid growing up were The Hardy Boys(just couldn't read them fast enough) and then Sherlock Holmes. I would say reading Holmes was and is the reason when it comes to mysteries I prefer historical mysteries over modern day ones(though I really like those). I suppose that is why writers like Anne Perry, Micheal Jecks have always interested me.
Now Charles Todd(actually mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) who are know for their Inspector Rutledge series of mysteries(which I have as yet read). Rutledge is an Inspector who served in World War I and must try to return to a normal live while trying to live with what he saw in the trenches.
It is with their new series that the Todds introduce their latest sleuth Bess Crawford. Unlike the Inspector Miss Crawford isn't a professional sleuth. Like many woman in her time she is a nurse caring for the wounded during the war. Miss Crawfords is what at the time(1916) would be considered a modern woman. Independent(actually owns a car which was rare for woman then), intelligent, speaks her mind. She is not your typical upper-middle class woman of the times.
It is one a ship caring for one of her patients, a soldier named Arthur Graham, she makes a promise to take a message to his brother before he dies. A promise that she hasn't had a chance to fulfill either because of the war or that she is hesitant to do it.
The message: "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for mother sake. But it has to be set right."
It is this message that will lead Bess, while on leave, to Oswald, Kent and into a fifteen year old murder by an insane brother of the soldier she made her promise too. And family with a dark secret that could get her killed quicker than the trenches of any battlefield.
Being the first book by the Todds that I have read I must say I was really pleased by this book. I actually finished the book in a matter of hours when I have a stack of book waiting with bookmarks in them.
Everything about this book was right on, the characters(major and minor), plot and just over style of story telling.
First lets talk about Bess Crawford who is a wonderful rounded character. She isn't some damsel in distress as many woman of the time period can be written. Many times period pieces such as this will have women who are the main character who still always needs to rescued by a man. She can stand on her own feet and do what is needed. A trait I'm sure she got from her father a retired colonel and from dealing with the severely wounded soldiers. But she not a cold hearted person. She still feels for the people she helps but just learns to hide those feelings of attachment for the most part. She does harbor some feelings for the late Arthur Graham which may or may not cloud her judgement later as the mystery deepens. But she doesn't stop no matter what her feelings tell her. For above all she believes in justice and the truth. It is this that drives her even when everything and everyone tells her she should stop.
Also It goes back to the quote(told to her by the wife of the Inspector who was involved in the murder fifteen years ago) at the top of the blog. Bess just doesn't believe in duty and doing what is right for the living. To her a promise to a dying soldier is just as scared as her duties as a nurse and to the living.
Now, the plot. This story keeps up the suspense right up the end. And there is enough twist and turns that keep you guessing on who committed that murder those many years ago and who is will to keep killing to keep the truth from ever coming to light. It was done so nicely that I wasn't really sure myself who was the murderer right up to the end.
Finally story telling. Bess is our narrator for this book and what a wonderful voice it is. Her voice brings alive the feeling of living in a WWI era England. You believe the horrors she has seen while a nurse. Not only that you feel the under current of distress the people who live in the shadow of war. But it never over shadows the mystery of this book to where you feel like your reading a history novel not a mystery. Too often writers trying for authenticity tend to over do it and the main threads of the novel get lost.
So overall I would say between the first and last page this is an wonderful introduction a character that I really look forward to reading in the future. It is a novel I know with confidence that I can suggest to my customers that also read mysteries. And not only that I will be reading the Inspector Rutledge novels as well.