‘An Unmarked Grave’ follows a diseased nurse through a mysterious murder

Michaeline Chance-Reay

By A Contributor

A tale of murder during wartime, “An Unmarked Grave,” is fourth in the Bess Crawford mystery series, following “ A Duty to the Dead,” “An Impartial Witness” and “A Bitter Truth.” “A Question of Honor” is scheduled for publication later in 2013. Bess Crawford is a young, single nursing sister who uses her sleuthing skills to solve crimes during WWI. Her work takes her to both England and France.

In this novel, besides dealing with the horrors of war, she treats victims of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Wikipedia states that it was really a deadly pandemic which killed 3-percent to 5-percent of the world’s population at the time and hardest hit were healthy young adults. Surprisingly, the disease was first reported in Haskell County, Kan.

Since Nurse Crawford also contracts the disease she cannot be sure that what seems to be a murder wasn’t just part of a dream occurring during her delirium. Once on the mend she discovers there truly was a murdered officer who happened to be from her father’s regiment.

The victim had been hidden among the piles of dead waiting for burial stacked outside the field hospital where she had been working. And being unidentified he was now in “An Unmarked Grave,” relegated to oblivion as it were.

Having a well-known military figure as a father is a great help to her in all her endeavors and this is no exception. Being an upper class women, Bess has many advantages, like a car when they were rare, and a sometimes body-guard also compliments of her parents. And to many the fact that coming from an affluent family she has chosen nursing as a career seems unrealistic. Although historically it was correct, and, having women from this strata joining the nursing sisters, as they were called in England, changed the way the evolving profession was regarded.

Charles Todd is in reality a mother and son writing team, Charles Todd of Delaware and Caroline Todd of North Carolina. She has a degree in English literature and he in communication studies.  Having an uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused their interest in what the British term “the Great War.”

They supposed write alternate chapters and then compare notes. According to the Book Browse internet site they maintain a strong level of anonymity; hence only state names are given as residences.

They also co-wrote the Ian Rutledge novels, which have won a number of awards.

Both series are considered historical fiction and their extensive research into the times, places and events are evident. “An Unmarked Grave” even has a local Kansas dedication, “For the National World War I museum in Kansas City — for gathering in one place the record of a war that changed a generation and even a century.  In gratitude for asking us to speak there and for hours exploring a remarkable and moving collection.” If this era and these characters are of interest, Jacqueline Winespear’s Maisie Dobbs series and Anne Perry’s Hester Latterly in her William Monk series are, in my opinion, even better reads.

All three give a vivid picture of the horrors of war and the struggle of women to make a difference in an era when they were not expected to work unless it was necessary for survival.

Besides having a mystery to solve, one learns a great deal about nursing from the Crimea to WWI. To read about American nursing, try “My Name is Mary Sutter” by Robin Olivera (Civil War-historical fiction) and Elizabeth Norman’s non-fiction account of WWII nurses in captivity on Bataan, “We Band of Angels.”

I have probably become entranced by these books as a result reading the Sue Barton, student nurse series as a teenager.

They certainly remind me why I chose a different profession.

Michaeline Chance-Reay is a K-State emeritus faculty member in women studies and the College of Education and a Manhattan resident.

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