After reading a number of heart stopping thrillers, which I fully enjoyed, it was a pleasant relief to read a well paced story that was entertaining and yet easy on my nerves.
In "A Duty to the Dead" Bess Crawford makes her debut. She his a WWI nurse and investigator. She's serving on the red cross ship, Britannic when it hits a mine and sinks. Although thirty men die, Bess escapes with only a broken arm.
Bess had cared for a wounded man, Ambrose Graham, who had been healing but suddenly but suddenly his wound turned septic and he died. He asked Bess to deliver a message to his brother. "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother's sake. But it has to be set right."
When Bess is home, recovering from her broken arm, she travels to Kent to deliver the message. At the Graham's, she meets Ambrose's mother, Jonathan, who is also home on leave, a brother, Tim, who has a club foot and is declared medically unfit for war and their cousin, Robert Douglas. She also learns that there is an older brother, Peregrine, who is institutionalized.
A doctor in town learns that a nurse is there and asks her help in dealing with another vet who is trying to overcome his own battle infliction. Ted Booker suffers from shell shock after seeing his twin brother killed in action. In an compassionate, well described scene, Bess talks to Ted as if she was at the front with him. It seems to help it looks like he's recovering. However, she's saddened to learn that Ted died. It appears that he took his bandages off and committed suicide.
Bess' medical assistance continues. We learn that Peregrine has caught pneumonia and cannot be treated at the institution. Mrs. Graham doesn't want him home but Robert persuades her that it is the correct thing to do. Bess offers to care for him but Mrs. Graham does warn her that Peregrine has murdered someone when he was fourteen, but not of sound mind. Once more, Bess' ministrations are successful and Peregine gets over his illness.
Bess then returns to London where she has an unexpected visitor. Peregrine was going to be sent back to the institution again but escaped. He wants Bess to help him uncover what happened when he was fourteen. He doesn't remember the details.
Reluctantly she agrees and she and Peregrine relive the details of the night when the Graham's servant, Lily Mercer was murdered.
This is a well written, nicely paced novel. The author manages to get the reader involved in the story and it is an interesting time to attempt to understand what was happening at that time. There is also a lesson on how facts can be misconstrued. Bess is a well described, heroic character and Peregrine is a sympathetic character.