Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Question of Honor

Another book by Charles Todd! If I had known that Charles Todd is a mother/son combo living in different parts of the United States, I would never have started reading "his" books. I have always felt dual authors can upset the continuity of a well crafted plot. But I have read with much enjoyment everything Charles Todd has written, first the Inspector Ian Rutledge books and now the Bess Crawford mysteries. All the books are set in the period surrounding World War I and paint a vivid picture of the world of English society in that destructive period of history. Bess takes the situation further: she is a nurse in the trenches of France. In this last book she deals not only with war wounds and amputations, but also with the influenza epidemic which swept Europe around 1918. Although this sounds gruesome, and coming after my post of November 11, it could well be, but we see the death and suffering through Bess's eyes. She is a competent, well trained and focused nurse who works calmly and concentrates on the task at hand. Sad to think that in today's world she could have attended university and become a doctor. She is frequently put in charge of accompanying patients back to England and on to clinics for more treatment, so she gets home to Somerset, which gives her the opportunity to find the evidence she needs to solve this mystery. Many of the clues involve the identity of children in a photograph: we could put it up on the Internet and have an answer in a matter of hours, but for Bess (and her worthy chaperone Simon) it involves sleuthing around graveyards and markets and large houses in Petersfield.  The premise is understandable, although it seems a little far fetched that so many people who play a large role in the unravelling of the mystery should bump into each other, sometimes more than once, in the trenches of Northern France.

What made this book even more enjoyable for me is the fact that the beginning is a flashback to Bess's childhood in India, where her father was a Colonel Sahib on the Northwestern Frontier. I am now the owner of an album lovingly put together by my Aunt showing my Grandfather as a Bombadier in the Royal Garrison Artillery in Bombay.

There he is, sitting in the middle of the photo. Why did I never ask questions about his early life? In part it was because my brother and I were always aware there was some kind of family secret. It involved the Aunt who gave me the album and I am pretty sure it involved nothing more than the fact that my Grandfather adopted her, or at least reared her.

There are few dates in the album, but I think I was able to figure out that this photo was taken not long after his father died at twenty nine, leaving his mother with five young children. One of his sisters entered a convent and my Grandfather joined the Army.

He was just sixteen at the time. The juxtaposition of the Army uniform and the flowered frame made a lot more sense when I read the passage in the book which explained that soldiers had a photo taken, perhaps the only one there was of them, to leave with wives or mothers when they went into battle, in case they never returned home again. But he returned to become my Garby down the Lock. Perhaps he thought I would not have been interested in his adventures in India.

I am so sorry I never thought to ask.

1 comment:

Maggie May said...

I think a good book that makes you want to read on to the next chapter...... has to be written by an author/ess who really knows her/his subject. Otherwise it just doesn't work. I think you can always tell.
Always good to put another book on my to read list.
Maggie x

Nuts in May