Book Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd

Posted December 31, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review:  A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd
Series: Bess Crawford #10
Genres: Mystery
Published by William Morrow on September 18, 2018
Pages: 354
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also in this series: Question of Honor

Also by this author: Question of Honor, An Unwilling Accomplice, Hunting Shadows, A Pattern of Lies, A Fine Summer's Day, No Shred of Evidence, The Shattered Tree, Racing the Devil, A Casualty of War, The Gate Keeper, The Black Ascot, A Divided Loyalty

Tenth in the Bess Crawford historical mystery series and revolving around a compassionate nurse serving throughout World War I. This story is set in South Wales in December 1918, a month after the Armistice was signed.

My Take

It starts off sad, as Bess notes that the war may be over, but the wounded are still with us. Worse, the psychological incentive to get better and back into action is gone.

The men have legitimate questions. Here they’ve done their patriotic duty and are going home maimed and disabled. There’s no work any of them can do. Their families are desperate, scared. And is the government doing anything to help them find work? Sure they’re getting a war pension, but it’s not enough to live on, and when you’re the sole support for someone…

For others, it’s a dread for the pity directed at them, worry that loved ones won’t want them anymore.

I can understand the despair of the men who work the mines when they haven’t all their limbs, but the captain is missing his leg from the knee down. He still has his intellect, there’s nothing saying he can’t do desk work. So I don’t understand why Bess keeps going on about there being nothing for him to do in a city. I’d think a city would be a better alternative than working on a farm.

Then there’s the fear and the greed, and Todd does do a brilliant job of teasing, creating tension and questions. It was hard enough waiting for Bess to find the captain, but then the problems that exist in South Gower are so unusual…and murderous, and Todd continues to dribble it out, as we worry about Bess. How — if — she’ll ever leave, or leave it alive.

Todd includes the changing perspectives on how things are done, due to the effects of the war, but some are still the same. There’s the nastiness of the villagers over the captain coming to stay and help his sister-in-law and that of Ellen Marshall when Bess asks for a lift back to Swansea. Although, when you get right down to it, that’s not the worst of that Ellen!

It’s that first person protagonist point-of-view from Bess’ perspective that gives us this outsider look at these people who are so insular and inward thinking, always thinking the worst of someone. There’s so little compassion left toward each other, as they all focus on their own greed. They complain that no one sent a nurse to look after their father’s, brother’s, son’s wounds, and they turn out to have been accidents at home, etc. Well, duh…

It’s one of the sadder Bess Crawford stories I’ve read. The village characters of this particular story are so self-absorbed while the wounded soldiers are too wounded to live.

The Story

It’s Bess’ compassion that sets her on the road to Cardiff in reply to Captain Williams’ plea for help.

There’s no stopping our Bess as she tracks the captain down to an isolated village by the sea. There’s even less of a chance of Bess stopping when the captain warns her that “You mustn’t stay. It isn’t safe.”

The Characters

Sister Bess Crawford is a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service who has worked at various field hospitals on the frontlines in France while solving mysteries when she’s on leave.

Somerset is…
…where Bess’ family lives. Colonel Sahib is her father and much in demand in Paris for conferences. Regimental Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, the colonel’s aide, is on a mission. Mother has had plenty of experience as the colonel’s wife. Iris is the housekeeper.

Caudle, South Gower, Wales, is…
…where Rachel Williams, Tom’s widow, lives, continuing with her mother’s weaving and raising sheep. She’s invited Tom’s brother, Hugh Williams, a captain in the war, to stay. He has one bitch of a sister with children who lives in Cardiff. Rachel’s adventurous brother, Matthew, died in the war. Her parents died shortly after they got the news.

Mr Griffith is Rachel’s nosy neighbor who agrees to put up Mr Morgan, the driver who brought Bess to South Gower. His son, Tommy, died in the war. Barry Dunhill has his eye on Rachel’s property and on her as a mother to his twelve-year-old daughter, Anna. Gwennie had been a midwife. The ineffectual Mr Wilson replaced Mr Black as parson.

Ellen Marshall Hobson was the granddaughter of one of the villagers. Oliver Martin, Ellen’s husband, is beaten. Other neighbors include Mrs Baker, Mrs Florence Tucker, Mrs Burton‘s Jenny is sick, but her husband, Daniel, sends Bess packing; a Simpson boy has croup; Edward and Ruth Stephenson are an elderly couple whose son, Robbie, died and their daughter, Edith, married a Bristol man; Joseph Warren has seen strange tracks; Terrence Butterworth is a cobbler; Mrs Heaton‘s son, Philip, is the strongest man in the village; Davis is the worst gossip in the village, and Susan is his wife; the Richardsons; and, the Greenes.

The Worm is a landmark. Mr Timson was a rector in Swansea who helped Rachel after Tom died. Sergeant Barnes will be in charge of the investigation.

In the early 1660s, the Henrietta went aground.

A clinic, February 1919
Bess joins Sisters Baker, Melvin, Anthony, and MacNeil in helping. Manners, Willis, and Strong are orderlies. Nan does errands for Cook. Captain Williams is here with his men, preparing to be released into the world. Sergeant Meadows and Private Whittle catch pneumonia. That Meadows is a lucky man in his Priscilla.

Mrs. Hennessey has let flats to a quartet of nursing sisters, including Bess, Diana is on her honeymoon in Cornwall, Lady Elspeth is visiting Peter’s family, and Mary has gone back to France.

France, December 1918
Sister Grayson, Dr Herbert, and Dr Childress, a surgeon, are on call. Tomkins is one of the orderlies. Father Johnson is the chaplain. Some of the patients include nine men, part of a Welsh company ambushed eighteen days before war’s end, Captain Hugh Williams who has a gift for mathematics has lost his leg to the knee; Private Evans, who has lost his left leg and right arm and is their best tenor; Corporal Llewellyn Jones asks what there is to sing about; Private Josh Williams; Private Owen Lloyd; Private Jones; and, Private Morris who lost his right arm.

Dr Taylor and Sister Perkins were in one of Bess’ dreams.

The Cover and Title

The cover is softly menacing as Bess, in her wool coat, looks out over the cliff at the peaceful gray and purple sea at Caudle while the sky above ascends from a cheery yellow into the darker grays of storm clouds. A testimonial and info blurb are at the top in white and pale yellow with the author’s name immediately below it in a serif white. The title is above Bess’ head in red while the series information is at the very bottom in white with the actual name in bold.

The title is literal, for Caudle is A Forgotten Place where there is no contact with the world outside.

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