Sunday, May 20, 2012
When it's my turn for the grave, I want to look back at my life and say, "That was a great time."
"An Unmarked Grave," opens with a scene at a military hospital in France in 1918. The ward is full of soldiers and medical staff taken ill, many dying from the Spanish Influenza. The medical staff was struggling to keep men alive but it seemed they were losing the battle as more and more bodies were carried out to await burial.
Nurse Bess Crawford is asked by an orderly to look at one of the dead bodies. It is of a Maj. Carson who had been murdered. Bess intends to report this but is struck down with influenza and evacuated to England.
Upon recovering, she's told that Maj. Carson died after being struck by shrapnel.
Being a courageous woman and the daughter of a well respected army officer, when Bess returns to France she tries to inquire about the discrepancy. She's informed that the orderly who informed her about Maj. Carson became depressed and committed suicide.
Bess won't let this sit because she understands human reactions and, to her, the orderly was a person trying to help the injured and sick and suicide wasn't a likely scenario.
To get answers, Bess uses her persuasive ability and visits people in England to see if what happened in France made sense. Unknowingly, she becomes a target herself.
Along with an interesting story about a historic time, the reader gets a good image of war torn France in 1918. An example is the damaged city of Rouen which Bess describes as she sees the destruction and tells us of the sites such as one building where the only thing remaining was a chimney.
Charles Todd writes in a visual manner so it's easy for the reader to picture the devastation to the French countryside and the difficulties of caring for the wounded. The image of Bess trying to care for the sick and injured reminded me of the recent Downton Abby story where we could see injured at a hospital back in England.
The story is very well written and painstakingly plotted with some surprises and excellent psychological insights into the characters.