Tag Archives: Bess Crawford

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

25th June 2012

*I received this book as part of a TLC Book Tour and the publisher William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.

Bess is back at the front in the start of An Unmarked Grave, and the war isn’t the only thing killing soldiers. It’s 1918, and the Spanish Influenza is cutting down strong and weak, nurses and soldiers. Amid the dead bodies, however, is one that’s unaccounted for. It seems someone has used the convenience of the dead bodies to slip in the victim of a murder. When Private Wilson reveals the body to Bess, she is astounded to find the dead man served beside her father and was a family friend. However, before she is able to contact the matron and notify her, Bess too is struck down with the flu, and her recovery is slow. Once she is stronger, she believes she dreamt of the body until she learns Private Wilson hanged himself. The more Bess learns, the more she is convinced Wilson was murdered as well. And the killer won’t rest until Bess is silenced.

An Unmarked Grave is the most intense Bess Crawford book to date, in my opinion. Not only is Bess near death in the beginning of the novel, but several other characters are in perilous circumstances as well. This book has a dark side to it that I think the previous novels have lacked, which makes sense as World War I goes on.

That said, I would also have to admit this was my least favorite book in the series, but not because of its darker quality. This series relies heavily on character, and I adore Bess. She’s strong and intelligent with a bravery I wish I would have in a similar situation but know I would not. However, this installment has a weak central mystery. The ending was unsatisfactory in that it was not supported by the bulk of the evidence, and there was an extremely odd storyline that kept popping up (if you’ve read it, the news story about the divorced woman). It just didn’t quite make sense.

Plus, the last book, A Bitter Truth, set up a possible love connection between Bess and Sergeant Larimore, an Australian solder. I was looking forward to the development of this relationship, but Larimore only appeared once in the book. Of course, that’s fine, I don’t mind a relationship taking a while to develop, but as Jenn at Devourer of Books mentioned, it was a throwaway. He appears for an instant only, and I’d rather Larimore not been present at all, as opposed to the odd way he was inserted into the plot.

Simon, on the other hand, the Crawford family’s dearest friend, seems to care more and more about Bess, and I think Bess certainly returns the feeling. The friendship seems very platonic, but you never can tell. I’d like to see Bess with a little romance in her life, so I’m very curious as to what the next book in the series holds. Even though this wasn’t my favorite, I’m still a staunch Bess Crawford fan and will look forward to the next title…and Bess Crawford’s continuing adventures.

For other opinions on An Unmarked Grave, check out the other stops on this book tour.

Check out my reviews of A Duty to the Dead and A Bitter Truth.

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

31st May 2012

*I won a copy of this book from Book Club Girl. Thanks!

Synopsis from the author’s website:

When battlefield nurse Bess Crawford returns from France for a well-earned Christmas leave, she finds a bruised and shivering woman huddled in the doorway of her London residence. The woman has nowhere to turn, and, propelled by a firm sense of duty, Bess takes her in. Once inside Bess’s flat the woman reveals that a quarrel with her husband erupted into violence, yet she wants to go home—if Bess will come with her to Sussex. Realizing that the woman is suffering from a concussion, Bess gives up a few precious days of leave to travel with her. But she soon discovers that this is a good deed with unforeseeable consequences.

What Bess finds at Vixen Hill is a house of mourning. The woman’s family has gathered for a memorial service for the elder son who has died of war wounds. Her husband, home on compassionate leave, is tense, tormented by jealousy and his own guilty conscience. Then, when a troubled house guest is found dead, Bess herself becomes a prime suspect in the case. This murder will lead her to a dangerous quest in war-torn France, an unexpected ally, and a startling revelation that puts her in jeopardy before a vicious killer can be exposed.

Ah, Bess. You’re so kind and generous. You see, people impose quite a lot on Bess, and because she’s a woman of duty, a duty instilled by her Army father, Bess does what she feels is right. She helps regardless of whether or not the individuals deserve to be helped, and I admire her for that because the family in this novel tested my patience. The family inhabits the house, but they aren’t the liveliest bunch. Yes, there is a war on, and yes, the family has lost one of their own, but they’re also harboring family secrets. A long-dead daughter’s portrait stares down at them, and Lydia (the woman Bess finds on her doorstep) cannot discuss children with her husband without the memory of her husband’s sister bearing down on them. It’s an oppressive atmosphere, and that oppression increases when one of the house party is found dead.

Bess comes under suspicion and will have to prove herself at every turn, and honestly, that’s what I loved about this book. Bess is at the front for much of it, nursing and passing messages between aid stations in her quest for the truth. The toll the war is taking is ever present and is mirrored in the family as well as Bess’s own frustration and fear.

Simon Brandon, her father’s right-hand man and family friend, is back, but another man is vying for Bess’s attention, and I really enjoyed seeing bits of a fun and free Bess, one who knows her duty but still manages to appreciate the playful spirit of others.

If you haven’t picked up this series yet, what are you waiting for? It’s got a strong female lead; it’s set during World War I. It’s part mystery and part historical fiction. Buy it for your Nook now, and you’ll be ready for the newest book An Unmarked Grave, set to hit bookshelves on June 25!

Psst! Check out the updated review of Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon to see if you were one of two winners!


A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

27th March 2012

*I bought this book on my Nook Color.

Bess Crawford is a nursing sister during World War I. Having been raised in a military family in India, Bess is not the typical Englishwoman. She is self assured and independent. Her father is highly respected in the forces but never had a son; thus, Bess has her parents’ full support (and worry) when she decides to join up. And rightly so. Bess is injured when the Britannic is attacked, and her bravery is immediately apparent as she helps to save others while herself dealing with a badly-broken arm.

While home recuperating, Bess is haunted by the dying wish of Arthur Graham. He wanted her to personally deliver a message to his family. Bess knows she should go, but it’s an emotional journey as Bess cared more than she should have about Arthur. So when she finds that Mrs. Graham and Arthur’s two brothers indifferent to his deathbed utterances, Bess finds she cannot simply leave, and the longer she stays, the more deeply she embroils herself in the family’s dark past and the Grahams’ willingness to keep those secrets buried.

I joined Jennifer from Book Club Girl in her Bess Crawford Readalong because I am so caught up in World War I. As you saw in last week’s post about Maisie Dobbs, it’s a time period that changed the world in many ways, so I couldn’t wait to get started with the story of Bess Crawford.

Also, I cannot help but discuss Maisie when I discuss Bess. I like them for two completely different reasons. Maisie must work hard for her position, and she has dealt with quite a lot in her young life. Though Bess comes from a much different background, the war equalizes. Bess is afforded no special treatment as the daughter of a high-ranking officer, and she doesn’t expect it. Neither is she a professional detective. Instead, it is the sense of duty instilled in Bess that causes her to poke and prod in order to find out the truth.

And prod she must. The Grahams have a secret they are intent on taking to their respective graves, and that secret has made them an unpleasant lot. Mrs. Graham buries her head in the sand and won’t really discuss the situation with Bess, but she poses leading questions, trying to ascertain if Bess knows anything about the family. There’s a mysterious brother, Peregrine, who is in a nearby asylum and who, during Bess’s stay, takes ill. The family seems, again, indifferent. The two remaining brothers, Timothy and Jonathan, are brusque to the point of rudeness, and when Bess is called on to help the local doctor whose patient has a bad case of shell shock, they make horrible comments insinuating the man needs to “deal with it” and get back to normal.

What’s so great about Bess? Bess is so easy to relate to. She isn’t a professional, and because of that, she isn’t always 100% sure of herself in terms of digging. She is certainly confident in herself and her abilities, but she also admits when she’s stumped/unsettled/needs help. She feels bound by duty, which is easy to understand in a family whose code is honor.

Why does she stay with the Grahams? By all rights, the Grahams are pretty miserable people to be around. They keep Bess around when they need her, and when she’s no longer useful, they give her the boot. As I mentioned, she stays because it’s her duty, but I think she also had strong feelings for Arthur. The more she’s around her family, the more she realizes she really didn’t know him at all, and it helps her to heal a bit.

Why should anyone start this series? Well, I’ll go ahead and admit that I quickly read every Bess Crawford book once I finished this one. I couldn’t stop, and the further into the series, the more you see the face of the Great War and how it affected everyone involved. Several of the books follow Bess to the front, and the writing is very evocative. Plus, the idea of “leave” is so interesting. Mostly when you think of war, you think of soldiers down in the trenches from start to finish. “Leave” seems an odd part of war, though I can certainly see why it was necessary. And in the latest Bess Crawford, I think there might be romance brewing down the line, which is something that the Maisie series gives out only sparingly.

One last thing to note: I’ve read on goodreads that many people are turned off the Maisie Dobbs series because of the sort of “otherworldliness” of Maisie’s training from Maurice, and it can be a bit much to take in – her intuition is much more literal than most mean the term, and her odd quirks seem to turn some readers off. I will say that Bess is much more accessible because she is amateur and also because her methods are more straightforward. So. If you aren’t a Maisie fan, it does not mean you won’t like Bess. Quite the opposite, really.

Any takers? Or have you read any Charles Todd before? Should I try the Ian Rutledge series?

Buy this book from Indiebound or for your Nook.