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A Casualty of War: A Bess Crawford Mystery


A Casualty of War: A Bess Crawford Mystery

World War I may be approaching its end, but Bess Crawford is not nearly finished with it. Her work as a British battlefield nurse continues to produce incredible moments and exchanges almost daily as unique characters are brought in and out of her life. This series has also covered some interesting stories and has often been unafraid to show the dark side of war as necessary.

A CASUALTY OF WAR is the latest entry in the series. Many authors who attempt multiple series with multiple characters risk diluting the individual efforts just to get more books on the shelves. This is not so with Charles Todd, the mother-son team who has produced two stellar series (the other stars Inspector Ian Rutledge). Like any fan of these books, I keep wishing for a crossover novel that features both of them --- a post-WWI dream pairing!

For me, the most touching part of A CASUALTY OF WAR is prior to its start. The dedications at the beginning of the story include one to “nurses everywhere who, like Bess, stand between us and the dark with their skill, devotion, and warm hearts.” That pretty much sums up Bess Crawford in a nutshell. However, I couldn't stop there with that sentimental quip and had to dive right into her latest adventure.

"A CASUALTY OF WAR is another masterful work in this series, and I cannot recommend it enough."

The novel starts with a badly injured soldier, Lieutenant Morrison, who is brought to Bess in very bad shape and regrettably dies without uttering a word. Even though Bess sits with him at his bedside for the last four hours of his life, he eventually succumbs to his mortal wounds, making him yet another casualty of war. The book does a nice job of placing the focus on those soldiers or victims of war who may not have won medals or had statues erected in their memory. The literary light shines on those voices now silenced forever with only a cemetery headstone left behind to tell their story.

Bess has made some interesting connections and ran into many unique characters during her time in the medical trenches of WWI. One such individual is Captain Alan Travis. Bess is sent north to take the place of a fellow nurse who tried to kill herself in a fit of what can be described as serious PTSD. On the transport ship to the new assignment, she befriends Alan, who regales her with stories of his family and how, if she ever gets to Barbados, she must look up the famous Travis family.

Bess is beyond shocked when Alan, who is suffering from a severe head wound, is brought to her at her new battlefield duty. Once he becomes somewhat understandable, he blurts out that the person who shot him is his distant cousin, James Travis. Bess is joined by her military father's right-hand man, Simon Brandon, as they go off on their own mission to meet with the Travis family. Not only are they handled in a very serious and unfriendly manner --- tag-teamed by both a matriarch from the Travis clan and their pastor --- they are provided with an unexpected revelation that James is long dead.

Was Alan merely confused as a result of his head wound, or is there another reason why he imagined his deceased relative as the guilty party in his shooting? James was actually Alan's great-uncle, which makes his accusation that much more baffling. When Alan escapes from his medical care, it alarms Bess, and she realizes that the only way to help him is to find out what he is running to or away from.

Things really begin to wear on Bess as she feels she is losing control of her life and the world around her. People begin celebrating the coming end of WWI, but she remains morose, indicating that “the wounded and the dead are still the wounded and the dead.”  The only thing she can control is what she does with her remaining time as a battlefield nurse.

Bess chooses to do some research into head wounds and brain injuries, a quest that will bring her directly onto Alan’s path for a third time. This time, though, he is a suicidal and even more injured patient, and is under care at a clinic for brain injuries. He will not let go of accusing James of shooting him, which forces both Bess and Simon deeper into the story of the Travis clan and the secrets that have haunted them all.

A CASUALTY OF WAR is another masterful work in this series, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 6, 2017

A Casualty of War: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd