A Duty to the Dead
If you’re looking for an entertaining historical mystery, you’ll enjoy A Duty to the Dead, a story set in England during World War I. This is the first book of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, written by a mother-son duo, who introduce Bess as a highly skilled young nurse aboard the doomed HMHS Britannic. Bess narrowly escapes death when the ship hits a mine and soon an unfulfilled promise to a soldier on an earlier ship assignment nags her. Arthur Graham, a dying English soldier, begged her to deliver a curious message: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.”
Bess knows it would have been her failure if she had died before trying to reach Arthur’s brother. And although her father, the retired Colonel Richard Crawford, is grateful she’s alive, he advises her, “But you have a responsibility not to put it off again. A duty to the dead is sacred. I needn’t tell you that.”
When Bess delivers the message, Jonathan Graham acts strangely. She’s fulfilled her duty, but she can’t let go. A medical emergency delays her departure and soon Bess is caught up in the Graham family affairs. Her nursing skills prove helpful, but her curiosity leads to hints of a chilling family secret. There’s only one person who can explain, but he’s locked in an asylum.
I enjoyed this mystery as much for the story as for its cast of characters. The Graham family has a lot to hide and although the people in the small town of Owlhurst can’t figure things out for themselves, they help Bess put the pieces together. And it becomes clear that her duty to the dead extends way beyond her promise to Arthur Graham. Interesting side stories enhance this mystery as the reader sorts out facts and events.
A Duty to the Dead is a fast and light read, but it also includes serious themes such as the damaging effects of war on both soldiers and families left behind, as well as the young men deemed unfit to serve. In addition, the author challenges the reader to think about responsibility for a crime. Does the blame lay on just one person, or do conspiracy and complicity make others just as guilty?
I liked how the author used this time period to show what people do during wartime and how their perceptions of danger change. Bess Crawford, barely out of her teens, has developed a courageous, confident and independent character, which serves her well as both a nurse and an amateur detective. I expect she will handle many challenges in the next books with the skills she shows in her first adventure. A Duty to the Dead was published in 2009 and there are eleven more for fans to enjoy. You can see the full list here.
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