Our Book Time with Bess Bess Crawford Read Along begins! Today we'll discuss the first book in Charles Todd's Bess Crawford series, A Duty to the Dead. Answer the questions below in the comments section and link to your posts with your own thoughts about A Duty to the Dead there as well. For those who are also posting their thoughts to Twitter, please use the hashtag #besscrawford.
A Duty to the Dead
Dedicated to helping the many wounded during the Great War, Bess Crawford receives a desperate request from a dying lieutenant while serving as a nurse aboard a hospital ship. "Tell my brother Jonathan that I lied," the young man says. "I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."
Back home in England, Bess receives an unexpected response from the dead soldier's family, for neither Jonathan Graham‚ his mother‚ nor his younger brother admit to understanding what the message means.
But the Grahams are harboring a grim secret, and Bess must, somehow, get to the bottom of it. It is her sacred duty to the dead, no matter how painful, or dangerous, that obligation might be.
Questions for Discussion:
1) Was this the first book that you read by Charles Todd, or, the first book set in this time period? I first encountered WWI-era-England with Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, and then, of course with the tv sensation Downton Abbey. If you have read more in this time period, what other books do you recommend?
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?
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?
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? Of course it makes sense, but I hadn't realized the number and that those men's families were left with no grave at home to visit, as Bess reflects, "In the sea there were no markers for the dead. No place in the deep to mourn, no place to leave flowers."
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?
5) What did you think of Mrs. Graham and her sons? I was struck by how much Bess was at their mercy and whim while staying in their house. Do you think they abused her kind nature in asking her to care for Peregrine?
6) Did you guess who the real killer was before he was revealed? I confess I went back and forth a few times, wondering.
7) What new word did you learn in A Duty to the Dead? For me it was "ratings," which refers to "a classification according to grade; specifically: a military or naval specialist classification, or more precisely: "chiefly British: a naval enlisted man." (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition).
I can't wait to hear what everyone else thought. I loved meeting Bess and learning more about this time and the mystery kept me turning pages rapidly until the wee hours of the night.
Join us next month as we discuss the next book in the series, An Impartial Witness, which we'll talk about on Monday, April 30th. And, the first 5 people to comment here with answers to the discussion will win a copy of An Impartial Witness!
The Book Time with Bess Read Along runs through the publication of the newest book in the series, An Unmarked Grave in June 2012. See the complete schedule for discussing the 4 books in the series below. Feel free to join at any time!
April 30th - An Impartial Witness discussion
May 1st – A Bitter Truth paperback goes on sale
May 29th – A Bitter Truth discussion (May 28th is Memorial Day)
June 5th - An Unmarked Grave – the new hardcover goes on sale
June 25th – An Unmarked Grave discussion
June 28th – Book Club Girl on Air Show with Charles Todd to Discuss the Entire Series