A review written by John for (An Unmarked Grave: A Bess Crawford Mystery ~ by Charles Todd)
John’s quick take:
A murder mystery whodunit featuring a plucky nurse-cum-detective, set in England and the battlefields of France during the First World War.
John’s description: Bess Crawford is a frontline nurse, serving in aid stations just behind the trenches during the grim battles of the First World War. She is also the daughter of a highly respected and well-connected Army Colonel – hers is a family that is steeped in military history and traditions.
It is early in 1918 and to add to the horror of war, the Spanish influenza epidemic is sweeping through the region, leaving behind a trail of destruction and death. Bess and her colleagues, already exhausted and close to breaking point, now have to deal with a huge influx of sick and dying soldiers that have been struck down by the disease.
Then in the midst of the madness, the body of an officer is discovered among the piles of dead waiting to be buried in mass graves; but he has been neither shot nor infected by the contagion – he appears to have been murdered. But before Bess can report the murder, she too falls sick and for a long time her life hangs by a thread. When she finally recovers, she discovers that the only other witness to the murdered officer’s body has reportedly committed suicide and the officer’s wife has received official notification that he died in battle. Bess is determined to seek justice, but with no body, no other witnesses and no-one but her aware that a crime has been committed, how can she identify and find the murderer among the killing fields of the Western Front? As she sets out to solve the mystery, she soon becomes a target for the unknown killer.
John’s thoughts: This is definitely a book for whodunit fans, which is a category I don’t normally fall into, but the unusual setting drew me to the book. My grandfathers both served in the First World War, and like many whose close relatives experienced it I am fascinated (and absolutely horrified) by the madness of this terrible war. Needless to say anything set during that period has a good chance of grabbing my attention. And it did, because Todd does a good job of capturing some of the circumstances and atmosphere and conveying what it was like for people who were caught up in the war. So far so good.
Where I struggled a bit was with the storyline and the main character – it just didn’t feel realistic or authentic. The notion of an upper-class woman serving as a nurse on the frontline, able to frequently travel to England and back, fighting off attackers and roving the Western Front trying to solve mysterious murders just didn’t ring true for me. But perhaps that is the point and that An Unmarked Grave is intended as a piece of escapism. If that is your preference and you enjoy stories about amateur sleuths trying to solve heinous crimes, then this one is for you. The setting is unusual and certainly makes for a dramatic backdrop. So personally I’d rate this book three stars; it was an entertaining book and an enjoyable read that I’m sure many fans of the murder mystery genre will rate more highly.
1/2/2013; Trade PB; Harper Collins.
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