Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 25th, 2009 (eBook) / September 2nd, 2009 (Audible Audio)
486 pages / 9 hours and 49 minutes 


A Duty to the Dead introduces readers to an unforgettable new protagonist Bess Crawford, courageous World War I nurse and determined investigator. Once again the New York Times bestselling author brilliantly evokes post-Great War Europe, casting an indomitable heroine into a simmering cauldron of village secrets, family intrigues, and murder. A Duty to the Dead is another superb demonstration of the exceptional abilities of a master whose novel A Test of Wills was named one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

England, 1916. Independent-minded Bess Crawford's upbringing is far different from that of the usual upper-middle-class British gentlewoman. Growing up in India, she learned the importance of responsibility, honor, and duty from her officer father. At the outbreak of World War I, she followed in his footsteps and volunteered for the nursing corps, serving from the battlefields of France to the doomed hospital ship Britannic.

On one voyage, Bess grows fond of the young, gravely wounded Lieutenant Arthur Graham. Something rests heavily on his conscience, and to give him a little peace as he dies, she promises to deliver a message to his brother. It is some months before she can carry out this duty, and when she's next in England, she herself is recovering from a wound.

When Bess arrives at the Graham house in Kent, Jonathan Graham listens to his brother's last wishes with surprising indifference. Neither his mother nor his brother Timothy seems to think it has any significance. Unsettled by this, Bess is about to take her leave when sudden tragedy envelops her. She quickly discovers that fulfilling this duty to the dead has thrust her into a maelstrom of intrigue and murder that will endanger her own life and test her courage as not even war has.

What Did I Think About the Story?

With all the advanced praise I read about the son and mother duo comprising Charles Todd, I went into the reading and listening (I switched back and forth between the Kindle eBook and Audible audiobook versions) of A Duty to the Dead with high expectations and very high hopes. I am a sucker for a history-drenched mystery and I absolutely love when I am truly shocked by the various surprises that pop up during these sorts of novels. While Duty to the Dead did introduce me to a plucky and resourceful new heroine in Bess Crawford, I can't say that my highest of expectations were met when I was through.

I specifically wanted to start with A Duty to the Dead as this is the first of the Bess Crawford Series now due to have its seventh installment come out next week (August 18th, 2015). Within the first few pages I was completely confused as to whether I had in fact picked the correct book as the first in the series. I actually had to go online and make sure I was correct with this assumption as the book seems to pick up in the middle of Bess's story. She is already a trained nurse, working on board a medical ship during WWI, and when the book opens she is in the middle of writing a letter when the ship she is on has an explosion. We don't get much background on Bess other than short snippets of information that feel more like they are meant to be synopsis of what we should already know than new information and the main driving force of the novel - Bess's deathbed promise to Lieutenant Graham that she would pass on his message to his brother Jonathan - has already occurred! The reader never gets to know Arthur Graham except in Bess's memories and, for me, this made her mission and her rather intense feelings for the young officer fall flat. Without getting to experience their interactions first hand it felt more like Bess just telling her story than me actually being a witness to what has happened to bring her to the emotions and actions that propel the story. As I love feeling like part of the action, this was a big disappointment for me.

Once Bess actually delivers her message to Jonathan Graham and is roped into staying a little longer at their manor, therefore becoming entangled in the many secrets the family is hiding, the story became much more enjoyable. Bess is quite the determined amateur detective and I enjoyed watching her uncover the lies the various members of the Graham family, including Arthur, had hidden, which included a serial killer within their midst. I will admit that I had a pretty good idea who the killer was relatively early on, but I still enjoyed watching the story unfold to see exactly how we would get to the final conclusion.

All in all, A Duty to the Dead wasn't a bad story, I just didn't feel it lived up to the great hype I kept reading surrounding this series. I'm torn on whether I want to continue to read any more, since I really did enjoy Bess's character even when the plot and character development fell somewhat short.  I might have felt less this way if the beginning didn't feel like I was thrown into the middle of a story I should already know the background to. If I continue with the series I will definitely lower my expectations and be hopefully optimistic that more time will be spent in familiarizing readers with the characters and their actions.


What Did I Think About the Cover?   

It's okay. Like the story I like it well enough, but it doesn't really do anything to grab me.

My Rating: 2.5/5.0

Has anyone else read this series, or the authors' Ian Rutledge series? If so, did you have a better experience? Any recommendations of better books in the series to hopefully excite me again about reading it?


  1. I really enjoyed reading your review. Thanks for sharing this great review.

    1. Thank you, Cindy! And thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment...I appreciate it : )!