Elevate Difference

A Duty to the Dead: A Bess Crawford Mystery

It’s funny how everyone gets something different from a story. I like it best when a book is categorized in a genre that, after reading it, is slightly off from my own understanding. It makes it even more fun to read when my expectations are so astonishingly surpassed.

A Duty to the Dead starts off with a bang. Before the end of chapter one, a gigantic wartime hospital ship, the infamous Brittanic, is at the bottom of the sea. Many healers of the injured are themselves dead, pulled gruesomely into the screws of the behemoth as they frantically row to escape the pull of the massive propellers. Our heroine, Bess, does not fall victim and makes her escape, injured but alive, on another life boat.

I had to read that chapter twice because it was so grippingly described and captivating. I loved Bess before I’d finished it the first time and wanted to meet her for tea by the end of the second pass. After a beginning like that, I was leery of other characters, afraid they would not be nearly as wonderful, memorable, or real. Charles Todd, happily, did not disappoint.

The storyline is at odds with itself by being complicated, simple, and sweet: Army nurse meets and falls a little bit in love with a wonderful, but doomed, man. On his death bed, he begs her to take a message to his brother, to right a wrong that should have been settled a long time ago. She promises, but proceeds to hold off on her mission. It isn’t until her father reminds her of its importance while she recovers from her own injuries that she makes her travel plans. B

ess feels remorse that she could have perished at the hands of an enemy torpedo without fulfilling the promise she made. She travels to meet with the family of her patient, to share this important message with his brother. She has no idea of the secrets this family holds close to the vest.

There is mystery to her visit. A brother, long ago placed in a locked ward, guilty of murdering a nanny as a preteen in a fit of passion. He has spent his life in an institution, and his surviving brothers all work hard to ignore his very existence. Deaths, however, seem to occur in this small hamlet more frequently and more unusually than they should. They all seem to be accidents, until Bess starts to dig to the bottom of the secret she knows her patient held.

The mystery is soundly contrived, shocking, and brilliantly comes together in the end. Every person met along the way is a new entry into stellar character building. My only disappointing moment was the last sentence, slightly sticky in its sweetness—but, alas, forgivable. After all, some girls like that kind of stuff.

A Duty to the Dead will forever be in one of my top ten. I will cherish its addition to my sparse but well-loved library.

Written by: Rachel Petzold, December 10th 2009
Tags: mystery, novel

I loved this book too and found it delightfully feminist! I'm glad to see it getting more good press!