The mother and son writing team of Charles Todd continue with their engaging Bess Crawford mystery series. AN UNMARKED GRAVE may pose the most dangerous scenario yet for our engaging heroine.
It is the spring of 1918 in the midst of World War I, and Bess is performing her duties as a loyal British nurse on the French Front. In addition to battling countless war wounds, she and her medical staff find themselves caught in the middle of an epidemic --- the Spanish flu. It is a serious and deadly strain that even afflicts Bess herself.
"AN UNMARKED GRAVE is high-quality historical mystery at its finest, and each novel in the series gets better and better. "
Prior to succumbing to the illness, Bess gets herself caught up in some nefarious goings-on that put her in far more danger than this new flu. The body of Major Carson is found amidst other corpses, the obvious victim of a murderous act. He is discovered by Private Wilson, who, along with Bess, attempt to properly attend to the body so it is not cast into an unmarked grave.
However, Bess falls prey to the sudden illness she has been stricken with and cannot attend to the caring of Carson’s corpse. When she is finally coherent, she is informed by her family friend and neighbor, Simon Brandon, that Wilson committed suicide rather than attend to Carson’s interment. Bess cannot understand this as the Private Wilson she came to know did not appear to be suicidal at all.
Bess is sent back home to England to recover from her illness, but is still haunted by what she believes are two murders that she was right in the middle of. While recovering, she finds work at a local hospital where she befriends the staff, most particularly a Canadian officer by the name of Barclay. In addition to confiding in her friend Simon, she also shares with Barclay her desire to return to France and look into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Carson and Wilson.
Simon ends up getting wounded himself, shot by a German soldier. He is in bad shape and is being nursed back to health at the same London hospital Bess is temporarily working at. Confident that Simon is in good hands, Bess gets her father, Colonel Crawford, to put through orders returning her to the French Front. When an attempt is made on her life, she quickly realizes that the killer may think she can identify him, and now she is a threat to him as long as she is alive.
Bringing along Captain Barclay for assistance, Bess begins to dig into Carson and Wilson’s lives to see who they might have as an enemy. More importantly, what fellow soldier --- or someone posing as a soldier --- would want either of them dead? Carson was once in her father’s regiment, so it is easy for her to piece together his history. Eyes point to the Morton family, who has several sons enlisted in the military. Will Morton seems to have had reason to be envious of Carson, but Bess is still unsure if it's enough to commit murder.
As Bess digs deeper into the Morton family, the body count continues to pile up as those close to her fall victim to the mad killer. Is it really Will Morton, or could the answer lie in Bess’ own past and that of her father? You will not be prepared for the labyrinthine plot twists that keep you continually guessing. The most astute mystery reader will be challenged to outwit this extremely clever conundrum created by Charles Todd and is definitely worth the ride.
I enjoy the fact that Todd has taken brief respites from their highly-acclaimed Inspector Rutledge series to bring us Bess Crawford. AN UNMARKED GRAVE is high-quality historical mystery at its finest, and each novel in the series gets better and better. With the recent success of shows like “Downton Abbey,” fans of this genre will be clamoring for more World War I British intrigue, and Todd provides that in abundance.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 22, 2012