Review of A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

ImageI was excited about this book, because I’ve been looking for a good historical mystery to sink my teeth into for a while.  I love the Monk series by Anne Perry, and I used to like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian series, but it’s gotten a little repetitive and less historical.  The other books that get recommended for me on Amazon just feel too light or “girly” for me.  I tried the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen but it didn’t do anything for me.  I know people love the Maisie Dobbs series, but the first book was so slow I didn’t get through it.

What do I want?  History, good writing, a detailed story, a conclusion that makes sense, and interesting characters along the way, especially the hero or heroine.  There should be more to the story than just running around picking up clues.  I should learn something about the events or the issues of the day.  Is that a tall order?

A Duty to the Dead is the first book in the Bess Armstrong series, and it starts off strong: Bess is a nurse on a World War I hospital ship, the Britannic.  An explosion causes the ship to sink, and Bess is injured and sent home to London to recover.  This part of the story is all true, except for the fictional characters.  While Bess is home, she’s honor-bound to deliver a message to the family of a dead patient, Arthur Graham.  On his deathbed, Graham made Bess promise to deliver a cryptic message to his brother, and when she does, she finds herself caught up with the problems that swirl around this family.  The problem is that Bess had feelings for Arthur, which make it hard for her to deliver the message and go —  she feels she needs to figure out what the message means.

What I liked about this book: the fast pace, the detailed writing, the World War I history, and a story that moves fast and keeps you guessing but isn’t ridiculous.  I hate books where so many things happen in a single day and no one ever stops to eat or sleep.  Bess is a perfect heroine, she’s smart and gutsy but still seems realistic for her time.  She comes from a military family and grew up in India, so it makes sense that she has a different view of the world than most of her friends.  There’s a believability to the story and a complexity that comes close to Anne Perry’s writing.  In other words, serious issues are dealt with.

Charles Todd, surprisingly, is neither British nor male.  Well, half-male – Todd is actually a mother-son writing duo, Caroline and Charles Todd.  I’m a little put off by them writing under his name, but I’ll leave that be until I read more of their books (maybe he’s doing most of the work).

Series books usually get better, and I’m hoping that’s true of this one.  The Todds also have a second series that I can try.

Since I keep mentioning Anne Perry, I’ll also mention there’s a new book about her, Anne Perry: Murder of the Century by Peter Graham.  I’m not sure yet if I’ll read it; it depends if it’s too sensational.  You may not know that Anne Perry is one of the few mystery writers who has actually murdered someone.  It’s a fascinating story that was told in the movie Heavenly Creatures (Perry was played by Kate Winslet).

If you’re a historical mystery reader, any recommendations?  Should I give Maisie Dobbs another try?  I have another Monk book on my Kindle, and I’m itching to read the J.K. Rowling mystery.  What do you suggest?

  5 comments for “Review of A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

  1. debbierodgers
    July 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Do give Maisie Dobbs another try. The pace can be a little slow, I guess, but Maisie develops richly over the series.

    I enjoy the Bess Crawford series too, although I think that this first book might be the strongest. As for the Ian Rutledge series that they/he write(s), here’s my thoughts on the first two:

    I strongly recommend the Barker and Llewelyn series by Will Thomas, although there is no female protagonist. 😉

    • July 21, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Debbie, thanks for the great feedback! I’ll check out the Will Thomas series and I’ll probably go back to Maisie Dobbs – it’s sitting on my shelf.

  2. July 21, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I recommend the Shardlake series by C J Sansom – I think there are four or five titles. They are set in 16th century England and feature a lawyer who is sent on missions by the chief advisor to the King. You get some good historical info and context and the plots are well constructed.

  3. July 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    This sounds really good. I haven’t had the chance to start either this series or the Maisie Dobbs one.. .or the one with Sherlock Holmes and his wife. There are just too many!

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