If you've read any of the articles that have come out recently about books that Downton Abbey fans should check out, you've no doubt heard about Charles Todd, and the writing team's Inspector Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series which are also set during WWI and its aftermath. Today the Todds celebrate the joy of Downton that has swept the UK and now the US. Read on Downton fans!
We’ve been enjoying Downton Abbey along with the rest of the universe. A great reason to support one’s local PBS station, to ensure another season.
For someone who writes about WW1, it’s great to see the war scenes come to life in the story. We see them in our heads while writing the Rutledge books or the Bess series, and they look just the same, although it isn’t Rutledge coming toward us through the smoke and the rattle of gun fire and the shells landing at the edge of the trenches, it’s the heir to Downton Abbey. And a handsome officer he made. He even had the proper stride for an officer. He would have reminded us more of Rutledge if he were dark, but he’s fair with blue eyes. Little wonder that Lady Mary is in love with him. The use of the small local hospital for returning wounded was very well done, and we can picture Bess there or tending to the patients at the Abbey (that reminded us of Longleigh House in the next Bess) as they convalesce, although her work takes her to France much of the time. She’s a nursing Sister, she’s done the full course, where Lady Sybil has done the shorter one. But more power to Lady Sybil. Whether serving in France or caring for the wounded at home, it’s a heart-wrenching task. And Bess has often been in charge of convoys of wounded coming home, trying to keep them alive to get there. A fact—the British Army used to send doctors into combat before they realized that they were more useful caring for the wounded. No one expected the horrendous number of casualties that trench warfare would produce. And then there’s the home front, epitomized by the Earl and Countess, seeing the world they knew and loved falling apart before them. Even their home invaded by dozens of strangers. But Carson the butler put it best, as did one of our own characters a few books ago—war is no excuse to let one’s standards slip. We’ve grown really fond of the Earl—he is played very well.
Well, now the war is over, although the tragedy of war isn’t. There’s Matthew in his wheelchair, alive but no longer whole. And Patrick with his terrible scars in a period when there was little in the way of plastic surgery to make them at least presentable. Rutledge was at the bloody battle of the Somme and spent months in hospital until his sister rescued him and took him to a clinic that specialized in shell shock. There was no cure, but Dr. Fleming helped him return to Scotland Yard and the demands of working there again, saving what was left of his sanity. While Bates was away, the Earl’s valet suffered from shell shock, had had to be sent away. You couldn’t help but feel for him.
What will happen now to the footman Thomas, who enjoyed his moment of power, running the convalescent home for the Army? He had shot himself in the hand in France, to get out of the trenches and come home again. Bess herself has to deal with a deserter in An Unmarked Grave, (June 2012) But most men stayed the course. It was so sad to lose William, but the new powerful gunpowder developed by Mr. Nobel crushed ear drums and lungs and bodies even when the wounded man appeared to be whole. The scene where Daisy married him was very touching. But she seems distressed about it. Is she still infatuated with Thomas?
Will Lady Sibyl go against her class and marry the chauffeur? Can he make her happy, or will his politics make their lives wretched? It will be a big step. We can’t help but wonder—why did Lady Edith believe the man who claimed to be Patrick? Was she really sure? Or did she have other reasons for wanting to him to be the lost heir. We aren’t sure what will become of the maid and her illegitimate child—tragically such things happened. You can’t help but wonder what will become of her. But the new maid who is a widow is casting eyes at the Earl. Hmmmm. And the nasty Mrs. Bates is dead. Murder? Or Suicide when her plot failed? Sir Richard has certainly shown himself to be a nasty piece of work. And he brought Lavinia back to complicate Matthew’s renewed friendship with Mary. We aren’t quite sure what to think about this new crop of characters and story lines. Will they be as riveting as the ones in the first four episodes? Only time will tell.
At least the Dowager is still is great form. She’s a marvelous character, and Maggie Smith plays her to the hilt. One thing that is interesting to us as students of the war years and the early days of peace is that so far the horrific influenza epidemic hasn’t touched Downton Abbey. We’ve just dealt with it ourselves in An Unmarked Grave, and we were waiting to see which of the household fell victim to it. Will they be lucky enough not to have to deal with it at all?
All the same, it’s hurray for Downton Abbey. It keeps you pinned to your TV every Sunday evening (in our neck of the woods) and it gives us much to speculate about during the week while waiting for the next episode. Is something going to happen to Cora? And who will step into her shoes? Will Carson really leave the Abbey? Will Mary risk exposure to rid herself of Sir Richard? And will Bates be blamed for his wife’s death and go to prison—or the gallows? For the Todds, it has been a great deal of fun, and it has whetted our appetite to see Rutledge or Bess developed for Masterpiece Theatre one day. As one of our fans said to us when we were in Dallas recently, why not?
The newest Ian Rutledge mystery by Charles Todd is The Confession. The fourth book in the Bess Crawford series, An Unmarked Grave, comes out in June. The first book in each series is Test of Wills (Rutledge) and A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford). You can friend Charles Todd on Facebook and watch this space to sign up for our Bess Crawford read along which will kick off on Monday, February 20th!