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March 25, 2012


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jenn aka the picky girl

1 -This was my first Charles Todd, but like you, I’ve long been a fan of Maisie Dobbs and also devoured Downton Abbey when it came on. I’d love to read more about WWI simply because the time period is so full of change, particularly when it comes to women. I’m fascinated!

2 and 3 - To me, these go together. Because she was raised in India, I think Bess is far less concerned about place and independence than, say, Maisie Dobbs is. She has been independent. She has seen poverty and death in India, and it certainly affects her ability to step up during the war. She is extremely self assured and never doubts that she can and will do what needs to be done.

4 - I did NOT know that, and I thought it was fascinating. When she breaks her arm, it’s so vivid. It made me a bit nauseated to be honest, every time she exerts herself before her arm is set.

5- I think that dying men don’t necessarily consider fair or unfair. He knew she would deliver it, and it needed to be done. As the title indicates, it’s a question of duty, which of course speaks directly to Bess because of her father and military-infused upbringing.

6- I really did not like the Grahams. Though Bess is polite, it would be very hard for me to bite my tongue around them. Of course, with a family like that, so used to hiding their secrets, I think their unhappiness just poisoned everything around them. I think they abused Bess, and I think they were also exceedingly rude on several occasions.

7- I thought I knew a couple of times, but I wasn’t absolutely sure until the end, and I think Todd intended that not only to keep us guessing but also to help us understand that everyone was complicit.

8 - Hm. Honestly, I cannot recall any specific words, and I didn’t mark any.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I mentioned on Twitter during one of the Maisie discussions that it seemed almost like reading about a more self-assured Maisie, like a prequel to those books but of course, without the Maurice-ness. :)

Thanks for hosting such a great readalong!

Martha @ Hey, I want to read that

1) I had finished all the to date Maisie Dobbs by the time I started reading Bess and then fell in love with Downton Abbey. I knew a lot of the period because WWI is my daughter's favorite war (she's a History major).

2) I was really surprised, not so much by Bess' independence-but of her parents acceptance. Especially her father. You would think a military man of that time would be more old school. But, I think he sees what a unique person and reliable person Bess is and how much she is capable of.

3)I think Bess' background gives her a better world view and a greater understanding of different people.

4)I did know a bit about the ships being used as hospital ships (see WWI-daughter's favorite war). But it did break my heart to think how many people were "lost at sea". I didn't think about how dangerous it would have been on those hospital ships. It makes sense but I never thought about how they would be in harms way.

5)I was surprised about how dedicated Bess was to deliver Arthur's message and thought that it spoke volumes about the kind of person Bess is. At first I thought it was plain noseyness that kept Bess making sure the family listened to his last message, then I really did feel she felt it was her duty.

6)That whole Graham family was a bunch of nut cases, except ironically Peregrine, who I felt that it wasn't a horrible existence was well rid of that family. I found it odd that Bess felt at their mercy even when she was with the other ill man (I don't have to book with me and I can't remember his name). She felt she was disobeying the Graham family.

7)I was totally back and forth on who the real killer was and in the end I don't think I had it right.

8)Arg, this would be my favorite question but I read this a while ago and I don't have the book with my. But I know there are words that were new to me (including ratings). And one of my favorite things is talking about British or archaic words we can't use.

I also found it interesting to see Bess' view of the war as it happened, not through flashbacks. Does anyone else hope there's a love interest for Bess in the future? And do you think Bess and Maisie would be friends?

I don't need a copy of Impartial Witness, I'm reading it right now, but thanks so much.


1) This was not my first Charles Todd; I was a fan of the Ian Rutledge series (and their stand alone book, The Murder Stone) and was so excited when I heard they were starting a new series. As for further recommendations in the genre, I encourage everyone to read the Ian Rutledge books to get a greater insight into shell shock, the Maisie Dobbs series, and Anne Perry's WWI series.

2) I loved Bess from the start and admired her strong convictions, her determination, and her independence. I remember being surprised initially at the degree of independence she was afforded, but, as she says time and again, she's her father's daughter and proves that she a good head on her shoulders. I suppose it also gives her parents a degree of ease that her father can track her movements through the War Office, even though that doesn't necessarily guarantee her safety.

3) I agree with the others that growing up in India gave Bess a broader world view. She's much less quick to judge and worry about what's proper than contemporaries of her class.

4) I've always been fascinated by the Titanic, so I did know about her sister ships and that the Britannic shared the same fate. I believe I actually saw a documentary about Britannic when I was a young teenager, complete with pictures of the nursing sisters. I also knew about hospital ships, but I'd never thought about what it meant for families whose loved ones were lost at sea.

4) I also agree with those who said that it wasn't a question of fair or unfair, rather it was a question of duty. And I knew the moment Bess realized something was not right, she wouldn't be able to leave it alone.

5) All of the Grahams made me so angry, but Mrs. Graham wins the prize for destroying Peregrine's credibility and ruining his life. I don't know if I would have been able to stay as long as Bess did. And they definitely took advantage, not just of her kindness, but also of her duty as a nurse to help the wounded and dying.

6) I read this book for the first time a few years ago, and I can't remember if I had an idea of who the killer was. This time around, it all came back to me midway through, but as I couldn't remember all the details, it didn't really spoil the ending.

7) I'm not sure I learned new words, but I did learn other things. First, I loved seeing the war from Bess's point of view--it made events like the sinking of Britannic so much more powerful. Second, I loved learning about a part of England that I'm not very familiar with. Every book the Todds write is set in an obscure part of the countryside, and they always give a great sense of the landscape and the people.


I've attached the link with the review and the answers to the discussion questions here:

Looking forward to the next in the series! Like the questions and the subsequent discussion it brings about!

Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

1. This was my first Charles Todd book, though I'd read all the Maisie books and loved Downton Abbey. My first introduction to WWI came in Rilla of Ingleside - but that book is set in Canada, so the perspective is rather different.

2. I liked Bess - she's smart, hardworking and independent, especially for the time period. I did wonder sometimes at her blunt statements - aren't the English supposed to be polite to the point of dissembling?

3. I found Bess' background fascinating - makes sense that she's different from many young women of her time. I'm curious to hear more about her mother - we hear a lot about her father in this book.

4) I didn't know that ocean liners were used as hospital ships, but found that part of the book quite interesting. So much death. I think we have a hard time grasping the scale of WWI's destruction today.

5) I was intrigued by Arthur's message and Bess's commitment to following through - but I found the Grahams truly awful. So cold-hearted and petty, both to one another and to outsiders. (Of course, they had a lot of secrets to keep - but they treated people so horribly.)

6) I did eventually guess the killer - though it took me a while! The mystery was quite well plotted.

Looking forward to the next discussion!


1. No it was not my first Charles Todd. I have some of the Ian Rutledge books as well. Through that series, I found Bess Crawford. I, too have read Maisie Dobbs and the Anne Perry series, both the WWI and the earlier ones as well.

2.Yes and no. She certainly would not have been the typical woman of her status to do what she did, but she was going against the grain. The fact that she had lived in India and her father was Army as well as she was both daughter and son gave freedoms that might not have otherwise been given.

3.The exposure to other cultures and people gives a willingness to withhold judgment as well as acceptance to ideas that are different from the norm.

4.Simply put, she had had her father's sense of duty from military background ingrained her from an early age. She put it off until her father reminds her of the duty. Was it fair? No, but he had no one else.

5.I think they wanted to resist the change that this statement would cause. Without them and their foibles, there would be no story. I think they took advantage of her kindness, but more importantly, I think they really thought that she didn't have the skills to help him and he would die. But they would have had not part in his death.

6. Yeah, I did guess, but I have read so many cozy mysteries for years that I usually guess. But I don't always know the why or the how.

7. The books that I have read have a real sense of place to them and become such an important part of the story. I think that the historically accurate information such as the Brittanic and Luisitania add to the reality of the story.

Babs Green

1.This was my first Charles Todd, but can't wait to get to the next one. I recommend Anne Perry. Just discovered her and also the Daisie Dobbs series by J. Winspear.
2.I love Bess Crawford and her loyalty to a cause and how she couldn't just turn and walk away when she learned about Peregrine.

3.This loyalty and determination to set things right was probably born in Bess because of her parents and the time in India. She saw the world as it really was.
4. Her reflection about the dead from the ship "In the sea there were no markers for the dead. No place in the deep to mourn, no place to leave flowers." This is the heart of Bess.
Arthur saw this in Bess and knew he could trust her to see his request to the end.

5. I disliked the Grahams from the beginning. There were times I mentally stomped my foot at their treatment of Bess.
6. I was back and forth about who did it, but I knew it was NOT Peregrine.
7. Maybe there was a word or even words, but I read right over them.
I loved this book. I cried for Peregrine. I will devour all of the Charles Todd books. My first, by the way, I "accidentally" picked up at my favorite used book store.
Thanks for my copy of Impartial Witness.

Jen - Devourer of Books

1) This was my first Charles Todd. I haven't read very widely in this era, other than Jaqueline Winspear's Maisie books, which you know I adore.

2) I liked Bess. She's very confident and, now that I think about it, I'm a little surprised at how much freedom her parents gave her, but I also think it is well-supported textually, with her unusual upbringing and the fact that her father basically treated her as the son he didn't have.

3)I think this relates to the second half of the second question

4) I had no idea about the hospital ships at all. The burial at sea I found very depressing. Even a grave in another country would be better, even if you didn't know which of hundreds of thousands of markers was for your loved on.

4) I understand Arthur's need to try to set things right as he was dying, but it was a bit unfair of him to ask Bess to actually deliver the message, rather than have her write it down. Of course, had she not actually gone there - and had it not been stubborn Bess - nothing would have changed.

5) I think Mrs. Graham was at least borderline abusive, period. Obviously her treatment of Peregrine was abhorrent and openly psychologically abusive, but she was controlling almost to the point of being abusive for her own sons and Bess as well.

6) I really had no idea which son it was. For awhile I thought it actually might be more than one of them.


Here's the link to it on my blog:


1. This is my first Charles Todd book. I've read other novels set in this era - it's one I enjoy. 13 Rue Therese is the most recent book I read from this era.

2. Bess is very determined. At times I thought she was a bit naive.

3. I think her back story made her more worldly in that she wasn't afraid to express her opinions and strive to do the right thing. She was able to read a situation and remain calm.

4. I didn't know that about ocean liners being used in time of war. When I began reading this book I googled Brittanic and read all about it. The idea of sea burials must have been difficult for the families at home to bear.

5. I imagine Arthur wasn't the only soldier to ask that a message be delivered to a loved one. I think Bess loved him and wanted to make sure his last wish was carried out.

6. He was one of the suspects on my list but I really wasn't sure.

7. I'm sure there were words I looked up while reading but I can't remember at the moment.

I really enjoyed A Duty to the Dead and look forward to An Impartial Witness (which I have ready to read!). My review can be found at this link:


I missed the Grahams question - the mother really screwed up her sons. She used everyone including Bess.

Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

1) I've read lots of Maisie Dobbs, and The Confession by Charles Todd.

2) I liked Bess's character -- her independence didn't seem out of place, because the war changed traditional feminine roles so drastically.

3) It explained some of her independence, and her awareness of cultures/mindsets other than the traditional 'British stiff upper lip'.

4) I had no idea that ocean liners were used as hospital ships.

4) I don't think it was fair of Arthur to ask Bess to deliver it, but hey, he was dying, people do unaccountable things.

5) Not a fan of Mrs. Graham or her sons, they were all rather creepy/self-centered.

6) I was debating between 2 characters as well.

7) No words stood out to me.

I didn't write a separate Bess post, but I did write a The Confession post which mentions you! :)


1. No. I'd read “The Confession” by Charles Todd, not to mention an enormous stack of books by authors such as PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and more—even the last of the “Anne of Green Gables” books by LM Montgomery is set during WW1. (Note: of course not all Wodehouse and Christie books are this era, but some are)

2.I admired her greatly. I wasn't terribly surprised by her independence and strength of character, because I'm familiar with strong British nurse characters, from both fiction and real life (my own mother was one). I do have to admit that I rolled my eyes when she managed to pull her friend to safety on the life boat in spite of a badly broken arm—that seemed a bit over the top to me.

3.I liked this a lot. I think growing up in India contributed to her independence and her father's personality played a major part in it as well. She is very much her father's daughter, and I liked that.

4.I knew a little bit about it, but not much. Interestingly enough, I recently read another book that talks about nurses on ships—although in WW2. (Before the Poison, also really good. I recommend it)

5.It was fair enough because they were in love, and he had proposed. Although she hadn't accepted his proposal, it's obvious she was in love with him. (And weren't you glad she didn't accept when you learned how awful his family was?) I think her initial committment was to Arthur, but once she was in the Graham house, there was obviously so much being hidden by the family that her curiousity was aroused and she couldn't help but follow through with it—especially once Peregrine showed up at her London flat, which effectively took it out of her hands.

6.I think Mrs. Graham was a warped individual who in turn affected those around her. Yes, they definitely took advantage of her.

7.I had the wrong brother pegged. I loved this book, but for me the two weakest points were the age of the first crime, and of course the afore-mentioned Bess managing to pull a woman out of the water with a badly-broken arm. (Her trying didn't bother me, just her single-handed success. I don't mean to harp on it though—overall, I loved the book and am looking forward to the rest)

8.I'm sure I learned a few new words (including the one you mention) but I can't remember right now. I hope you ask this again, after the next book—I'll keep it in mind.

Overall thoughts: really enjoyed this. I found the characters and setting believable and I'm excited to read the next book in the series!


I did not answer all the questions.

1. Was this the first book that you read by Charles Todd, or, the first book set in this time period?

This was my first book by Charles Todd. As of answering this question, I have now completed two books by this author team, and have decided that I most definitely want to read their other series, Inspector Ian Rutledge.

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?

My first impression was positive, straight away. I was a bit surprised by her independence during this time period, but then again I was not. There is war going on thus women were left to their own resources. Not only that, her upbringing was not "traditional". Due to her parents' lifestyle - father's occupation - I am not that much surprised by the freedoms they afforded Bess. My opinoin of Bess only continued to positively grow as they story progressed.

3. 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?

I was unaware of Britannic before reading this story, and was most definitely unaware that luxury liners were brought into service as hospital ships. This part of history absolutely fascinates me to no end. After reading this book, I found myself digging up as much information on Britannic as I could find. Then I trailed into learning more about Navy Hospital ships. Fascinating stuff to me.

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?

Arthur's message was intriguing. It certainly helped to set the tone for this mystery. I do not think it was a question of fair or unfair that Arthur requested Bess to deliver his message- it is what it is, a dying man wanting to set a wrong right and had no other option but to make his request as he did. Bess made a promise, and she felt its importance even without knwong the details - simple as that as to why she not only delivered the message but made sure it was followed through.

5. Did you guess who the real killer was before he was revealed?

I had a strong idea right before he was revealed, and only because Bess gave good clues at this point.

Overall: I really liked this story, most especially Bess. More of my thoughts have been posted on my blog.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word

I posted my answers to the questions here on my blog:

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