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A Duty to the Dead: A Bess Crawford Mystery    by Charles Todd order for
Duty to the Dead
by Charles Todd
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Bess Crawford promises to take this cryptic message to a dying soldier’s family: 'Tell Jonathon that I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right.' Bess, a nurse on a hospital ship during the Great War, suffers a badly broken arm when her ship, a sister ship to the Titanic, is struck by a mine in the Aegean Sea. Sent home to England to recuperate, she travels to Kent to deliver the message entrusted to her.

Bess walks into a family conflict that ends in murder. Feeling she has a 'duty to the dead', she remains in Kent to do what she can to see the soldier's wish is carried out, even though the family professes not to hold much interest in the odd message. Bess's sense of duty endangers her own life.

A Duty to the Dead is the first of a new series by the mother and son writing team of Charles Todd. Their widely acclaimed series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge received high praise and awards. I picked up A Duty to the Dead with trepidation, fearing that nothing could match the excellent writing that went before. I can truthfully tell you that they have another winner on their hands. Bess Crawford is my new best friend.

This novel takes place in England in 1916, by which time the English thought the war would be over. Those who survived the war brought their wounds home with them – both physical and mental - a hard time for the country and its people. Caroline and her son Charles Todd manage to present this context without bringing tears to the eyes of readers. They present the English as a people determined to do what must be done and show the world that they really do have stiff upper lips. There is a history lesson between the pages of this very fine mystery. The reader can almost feel that both the authors lived in that period.

Tightly written with not a spare word but at the same time glowing with descriptions that only enhance the plot, A Duty to the Dead bristles with lifelike characters and carefully chosen environs. The cover evokes the tale that awaits the reader. I challenge you to be part of the audience to welcome Bess Crawford to the mystery scene.

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