Casualty of War
By Charles Todd
A Casualty Of War by Charles Todd is a winner.
This Bess Crawford mystery has the war coming to a
close. The story explores the impact World War I had
on all who witnessed it: officers, soldiers, doctors,
and battlefield nurses.
Fans of Bess will not be disappointed as she is still
as independent, steadfast, intelligent, and resilient
as ever. Per usual she seeks justice and works within
societal norms where readers are able to absorb events
that are researched and steeped in time and place.
In this novel Bess becomes the champion of Captain
Alan Travis. She meets him near the front lines in
France at a forward aid station after he suffered
a head wound. He confides in her that he thinks his
cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. To make
matters worse after going back to the frontlines he
is shot again, this time in the back. Because no one
believes him and thinks his rage is due to shell shock,
they incarcerate him in a ward for the mentally ill.
Being from Barbados without any family support he
begs Bess to help him. Although she is not sure his
accusations are true, she is sure that the medical
diagnosis of shell shock is wrong. With the help of
her friend and her father’s former aide, Sergeant
Major Simon Brandon, she journeys to James’
home in Suffolk to learn more about the cousins’
relationship and to hopefully enlist the support of
the relatives. It is here that the mystery takes off.
Cooper: Is seems shellshock is another word for
PTSD, or as it is referred to during WWI, War Neurosis.
The Todds: We’ve had to learn
quite a bit about wounds in the Great War for the
Bess Crawford mysteries. And we’ve seen photos
of some of them that were unbelievably horrific. You
realize, doing this sort of research, what the cost
of war really is. But we have to know what Bess has
seen and dealt with. The problem was, doctors were
often learning as they worked, especially with head
wounds. Today we know more about brain injuries, most
particularly concussions from shells exploding too
close, and wounds to the head. Amazing surgeries save
men who would have died in Bess’s day.
But it was not just the soldiers that suffered, but
Bess as a nurse as well?
The Todds: Bess, like many combat
veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t
called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific,
will be with her for the rest of her life. This is
why we wrote the scene where Simon comes to Bess’s
aid after she had a nightmare, explaining to her,
‘The wounded and dead, their faces will stay
with you for a very long time. All those you tried
to save. They’ll come back in dreams…
The dead are gone, except in your memory. There they
are still young and whole and safe.’
You explore what happens when someone tells the truth
and no one believes them?
The Todds: Bess realizes the Captain
is a man in torment. She is not willing to just walk
away. We wanted to have the readers understand the
frustration and how it could lead to suicide. He felt
so isolated, which is why we had him from Barbados
where it was hard to get messages or send them. It
is similar to a man or woman who is sent to prison
even though they know they are innocent.
You also show the atrocities of the Germans: I guess
it is in their DNA?
Todds: We wrote this book quote, ‘But
now we were seeing what the German occupation had
done to this part of France. Villages had been leveled,
orchards cut down, garden walls turned to rubble,
and the flowers that once had bloomed there had been
churned into the earth. And often what couldn’t
be taken away had been burned.’ The Germans
had a scorched earth policy that was bloody vandalism.
They even booby-trapped and poisoned wells. The example
we put in the book is true where they booby-trapped
an oven in a bakery knowing the allied soldiers were
hungry and would open them.
The book also explores the atrocities of those who
enter the civilian life after fighting for their country?
The Todds: We talked about the burn
cases, the amputees, and others that are released
from the hospitals and sent back home. What happens
to these men? Governments invest a great deal to train
soldiers, but have not done a very good job in helping
them transition to civilian life. We also explore
this in our other series with Detective Ian Rutledge.
In the first book people questioned if he is capable
of functioning on his own.
I found it very interesting that even after the armistice
was declared soldiers died?
The Todds: The war did not end until
the peace treaty. When the bells rung, it was not
this magical hour where the pace let up. There were
still patients and casualties. Peace is coming, but
soldiers still must carry on and do their duty, even
if it meant killing the enemy. The last combat casualty
on record was an American Marine killed in battle
after the famous 11th hour. In the middle of battle
people don’t just throw down their guns and
I am sure you are getting this question a lot,
are you ending the Bess series now that the war is
The Todds: Unlike women of previous
generations, Bess is used to serving, not just being
useful, but also to having a profession, and the professional
respect and recognition to go with it. It would be
hard for her to go back and become the dutiful wife
who was told what to do. Adjusting to peacetime is
going to be difficult, but she will have many adventures.
She will still be the amateur sleuth who solves crimes
on a personal level. There will be all kinds of things
we can explore with Bess. She will have a very interesting
future where she might travel to Ireland or Australia.
World War I marked societal transitions?
Todds: Yes. It was a period where British
society went from Victorian to modern day England.
Because the men fought on the home front many women
took over their roles. Also, the great amount of deaths
had women filling in the vocational roles, as well
as assuming responsibilities for families and households.
The theme is Greed mixed with grief?
Todds: Relatives had to face such losses.
Since they were not there when their loved one died
they always held out some hope. We used this to show
how people prayed on them. They were considered easy
pickings because many women were not able to manage
their estates or handle any financial aspects. James’
mother was one of those who clung to the belief they
might possibly be wrong. She never possessed compassion,
which lead her to become a victim. Remember there
were no grief counselors to help women cope.
Can you give a shout out about your next book(s)?
Todds: The next book is an Ian Rutledge story
entitled The Gate Keeper. It has a murder happen almost
in front of Inspector Ian. It is more of a thriller
than a mystery. Next fall the next Bess book has the
war end but not the suffering. Men are in hospitals
and do not suddenly heal. Bess realizes she must have
a personal investment in her career.
and Elise want to thank Charles and Caroline Todd
for taking the time to give this interview.
Review of other titles inthe Bess Crawford
to the Dead, #1 [review]
Impartial Witness, #2 [review]
Bitter Truth, #3 [review
An Unmarked Grave, #4 [review]
A Question of Honor #5 [review]
An Unwilling Accomplice #6 [review]
A Pattern of Lies #7 [review]
The Shattered Tree # 8 [review]
Books of the Month
in Mystery, Thriller