I first heard of the Bess Crawford mysteries by Charles Todd in this post by Elizabeth at 5 Minutes for Books. She had me at hello when she claimed that these mysteries might satisfy those of us suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawals. (Downton Abbey is the first program I’ve watched in many long years, and after I started with season one after Christmas, it was one of the week’s highlights for me to spend an hour or so working on my scrapbook and sighing over the lives of the Granthams, et al.) It’s unusual for my reading a book to follow so closely on the heels of my adding it to my mental TBR list, but I thought it sounded like a lot of fun to join in the Bess Crawford Read-Along at Book Club Girl, too. Well, I’m only a week late with my post; the discussion of this book started last week. I’m okay with that, really, since I never even officially signed up to participate. 😉
Anyway, I’m going to go about this a little differently than I usually do. I’m going to simply answer the questions from the Book Club Girl post. I find it extraordinarily difficult to review mysteries well and avoid major spoilers, and anyway, I think this way will be more fun!
**Warning: This post contains mild spoilers!**
1) Was this the first book that you read by Charles Todd, or, the first book set in this time period? This was indeed my first Charles Todd novel, though not my first WWI era novel. The one that comes immediately to mind is Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, a novel I fell in love with when I was a pre-teen. (You can read more about how I held my friends hostage to read passages from Rilla to them here.) Another novel that comes to mind is the Newbery honor-winning Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. (Linked to my review.) Although it’s set in Montana, well away from the action, the plot is definitely dependent on the era and the war. I know I’ve read more, but those are two that I recommend and that immediately come to mind when I think of World War I.
2) What was your first impression of Bess Crawford? Were you surprised by the independence she enjoyed as a woman in this time, and that her parents afforded her so much freedom? Did your opinion of Bess change throughout the novel? I liked Bess from the very beginning, and since she is presumably the solver of all these mysteries, I didn’t expect her to be a shrinking violet. As to her parents, I think she gets her independent spirit from her father, so maybe he understands it just a bit. Again, I started out liking Bess from the get-go, and my feelings for her never changed throughout the whole novel. I like how no-nonsense and professional she is, and yet I appreciate how this first novels shows that she’s human, too.
3) Bess has an interesting back story, growing up as she did in India. How did the authors use that part of her life to help define her character, and that of her parents and their relationship? I think it’s interesting how her growing-up years in India so influence her in her adult life. I like that. I also think the relationship she and her mother have with the Colonel Sahib is interesting to think about. The fact that her parents kept her, their only child, with them in India instead of sending her back to England to be educated reminds me a bit of Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan (linked to my review), a YA novel set in India during World War I (ah! there’s another title for #1). Reading about British colonial India is interesting to me.
4) Did you know that large ocean liners, such as the Brittanic, which was a sister ship to both the Titanic and the Olympic, were called into service as hospital ships during the war? Brittanic was indeed sunk as well, just as the Todds write it in the book. Did you know that so many of the men who died on the hospital ships were buried at sea? This was all new to me, and I think it makes quite an exciting (and heart-wrenching!) beginning for a novel.
4) What did you think of Arthur’s message? Do you think it was fair of him to ask Bess to deliver it? Why do you think she was so committed to not only delivering it, but to making sure it was followed by the Graham family? I thought the message was just as enigmatic as Bess did, although I’ll confess I didn’t see the “other woman” angle at all, but then I wasn’t in love with Arthur Graham, either. 😉 It seems that it wasn’t unusual for these “nursing sisters” to be entrusted with all sorts of personal information, so given that fact and the fact that she and Arthur had definite feelings for each other, I didn’t find this odd at all. I think Bess is a person of integrity to a degree, so it is important to her to keep her word. However, I think the fact that she was half-way in love with Arthur definitely gave her a more personal interest in the matter and made her more than just a messenger.
5) What did you think of Mrs. Graham and her sons? Do you think they abused her kind nature in asking her to care for Peregrine? I didn’t care for Mrs. Graham much, although I think the Todds painted her in a half-way sympathetic light at times. It seems to me that they were so surprised with the reappearance of Peregrine that they treated him like something of a hot potato, and Bess ended up catching him. Thankfully, she was up to the task of holding onto him and seeing him through his illness.
6) Did you guess who the real killer was before he was revealed? No. I really didn’t have a strong feeling about it, although I did think it was probably one of the brothers. I was mildly surprised at which one it turned out to be.
7) What new word did you learn in A Duty to the Dead? Although the word peregrine is not new to me, I don’t know that I’ve heard it used as a personal name before. It was somewhat distracting to me, though not necessarily in a bad way: I just thought about it way more than I would’ve had his name been Charles or Matthew. One word that was completely new to me was ratings; you can read #7 on the Book Club Girl post to find out what it means. 🙂
I really enjoyed this book. I don’t read a whole lot of “guilty pleasure” books–when I read, I’m usually looking for literary elements or I’m reading it to learn something, etc. I also don’t read mysteries often because I’m easily frightened and I don’t enjoy being scared. This book has just enough suspense to keep me reading but not turn me into an insomniac, and I really, really like Bess. I hope this won’t be my last Bess Crawford mystery!
*I also want to note that I read this book on my Kindle, and it’s the first book I really enjoyed reading this way. I’ve concluded that I must have the paper version of a book if it’s one that requires much thought, underlining, or studying. Pleasure reads are just fine for the Kindle, though.