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A Forgotten Place: A Bess Crawford Mystery


A Forgotten Place: A Bess Crawford Mystery

Following most wars, it seems that those who sacrificed their lives for their countries are remembered more than those left behind who survived. This is at the heart of Charles Todd’s stunning new Bess Crawford novel, A FORGOTTEN PLACE. World War I may be over, but there are countless individuals who bear a consistent reminder of the horrors of war.

Battlefield Nurse Bess Crawford is sent to a rehabilitation center for the soldiers with the worst war wounds located at a country house in England. What A FORGOTTEN PLACE does, via Todd’s deft hands, is not so much present a story about the permanently scarred veterans of WWI as reach directly into your very soul from the start and not let up until you feel you are right there with Bess, feeling helpless to assist the psyches of these victims of the Great War.

For soldiers returning from battle, they often are forced to fight a new war at home --- a war from which they sometimes cannot escape. “The war had ended, but not the suffering”  is the quote that opens the novel and sets the tone throughout. Bess is tending to the badly, permanently injured soldiers --- many of whom are amputees --- and helps them try to enjoy their first Christmas in years spent somewhere other than in the trenches. She seems to connect to one soldier above all, Captain Hugh Williams, who lost one of his legs in battle.

"If possible, this tale of horrors faced by survivors of the war may be more powerful and effecting to readers than those that depicted the heart of battle from the frontlines."

Williams knows Bess' father, the Colonel Sahib, and has great respect for him. However, Bess and those tending to the soldiers come under heavy scrutiny from Williams and the other patients when one of them commits suicide while under their care. Somehow, Private Evans got away from everyone and threw himself down the large main staircase of the house, fracturing his neck in the process. Captain Williams, in particular, demands to know how Evans got near the stairs unaccompanied. It will be hard to regain credibility or trust after this tragedy.

Once the soldiers are able to go home, they are released to their family. It will be a difficult life for them as these once proud, courageous men are forced to depend on others to sometimes do the simplest tasks. Their injuries did to them what the Germans could not do: break their spirits. Bess is taking it especially hard, and her matron tells her to take some time off --- 10 days to rest and tend to herself for a change. Rather than return home, Bess has the cab driver stop in Wales at the address she has for Williams. She finds that he is living with his sister-in-law, Rachel, in a small and somewhat depressing mining town off the Welsh coast.

Williams tells Bess not to stay because it isn't safe. It will take some time for her to realize exactly what he is referring to. Things are quickly thrown into a panic when all eyes are drawn to the water, where a ship in distress is spotted in the distance. The crowd notices a body being tossed from it, and a recovery effort is made. The anonymous man can only be identified from his uniform, where it is discovered he was a Corporal in the British army.

The body is quickly buried in the local cemetery, and Bess notices the residents of this dreary town acting particularly odd as if they were hiding something. The mystery continues when Williams leaves his home one night only to return badly beaten and bruised. When another man named Oliver is also assaulted on the same road, Bess demands to find out what is going on and why these two men were targeted for an attack that did not feel random to her.

It does not take too much prying for Bess to learn what the townspeople are hiding and why they are so suspicious of outsiders. The answer is silver! The coastline has long been mined for silver as well as having it wash towards shore. This town is full of people hording their own stashes of silver, and it is clear that Bess is seen as a threat to their paranoia and greed. The problem for Bess is how to continue to help Williams adjust to life again, get some much-needed rest and relaxation, and keep herself from being attacked (or worse) by citizens of a town who would go to great lengths to protect their treasure.

Bess begins to feel like a prisoner as she realizes that she is never left alone in Rachel's household, and there are no cabs available to take her to the train bound for home. Her only chance for rescue is when her father's loyal military protégé and now family friend, Simon, arrives in search of her. Will Simon’s presence be enough to escape from this forgotten, lonely place off the coast of Wales, or will her helpfulness finally put her in serious harm’s way?

It's hard to believe that A FORGOTTEN PLACE is already the 10th entry in this terrific series. It seems like only yesterday that the mother/son team was penning a new series in between releases of their popular Ian Rutledge mysteries. Todd has an opportunity to shine here by demonstrating that Bess Crawford's story is not just grounded in wartime. If possible, this tale of horrors faced by survivors of the war may be more powerful and effecting to readers than those that depicted the heart of battle from the frontlines. I’m curious to see where Bess will take us next.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 20, 2018

A Forgotten Place: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd