World War 1 Fiction Historical Mystery Fiction
The Bess Crawford mystery series follows the activities of a first world war British nursing sister, and in this entry – the ninth in the series – Bess is still at the front but it appears as though the war is coming to a close. Shortly before the armistice, she encounters a British Captain during a rare tea break and he proceeds to tell her about the home he is dearly missing in Barbados. It sounds idyllic. He leaves in a hurry because he is anxious to return to his men. Despite the rumours of peace, the fighting continues and Bess is dismayed to discover the Captain in her medical station being treated for a head wound. He returns to the fighting but he is shot in the back. Even more disturbing than the injuries is his insistence that he was shot twice by a British Lieutenant – a distant cousin no less. The medical personnel quickly attribute his ravings to his head wound and he is sent to a clinic, in England, that specializes in “shell shock”. He begs Bess for her assistance and she agrees to help him. The war is now over but Bess – along with her close friend Simon Brandon – investigate the strange circumstances of his case.
At this point the novel resembles a traditional English village mystery. There is the vicar, his wife, the country doctor, the pub owner, the solicitor, the village tea room hostess and the wealthy landowner. The villagers are suspicious of outsiders and the outsiders (Bess and Simon) have difficulty unraveling their mystery because the townspeople circle their wagons and refuse to cooperate. They are distrustful of strangers and protective of their “boys” who have perished in the war.
I have followed this series diligently since the first entry (A Duty to the Dead, 2009) and I hope it continues now that Bess Crawford’s WWI is finished. Bess’s father has an undetermined role in the peace negotiations and it is clear that there will be many war-related messes that require attention. I cannot help but to think of Maisie Dobbs (Jaqueline Winspear 2003) since her story began in 1929 but most of her early cases had roots in WW1. (She was also a battlefield nurse). Bess is constantly sticking her nose in other people’s business so I imagine there could be many cases to come to keep her busy.
Now for a few notes on the author. Charles Todd is actually the pen name for a mother/son writing team and they are also responsible for the Ian Rutledge mysteries. I will confess that I have not yet read the Rutledge books but someday… The Bess Crawford books have an obvious lack of sex so – I don’t know – maybe it’s because of the mother/son thing or maybe it is by design. (When I say no sex I mean none – not real , not implied, not any). I can’t say I mind much but I am a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. Bess has had a few kisses.
The novel addresses many issues of war but in the forefront is the matter of shell shock (battle fatigue, PTSD) . It is an issue that needs to be addressed more so everyone can have a better understanding. The conditions that these men and woman endured are hard to imagine and we do owe them everything. Everything.
This is a terrific series that I hope will continue for many years.
A CASUALTY OF WAR by Charles Todd (2017) Harper Collins 377 pages