An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd is a great read. Not only does it have a riveting mysterious plot but it also has details about English society during World War I. Since this month marks the 100th anniversary of the war people might want to read this book to immerse themselves in that era.
The plot begins with World War I nurse Bess Crawford on leave to accompany a wounded soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, to Buckingham Palace, where he’s to be decorated by the King. Her duties include escorting him back to the hotel and prepping him for his journey back. The next morning she checks in on him only to find he has disappeared. Bess is baffled because the missing Sergeant was presumably badly injured, confined to a wheelchair, and unable to walk out of the hotel by himself. A soldier is then found murdered outside of London a few days later and someone has recognized Sergeant Wilkins as the perpetrator.
Bess must face a number of ramifications for the Sergeant’s actions. Both the Army and the nursing service hold her negligent for losing the war hero. Scotland Yard comes calling to Bess’s door, and accuses her of irresponsibly for leaving her patient, allowing him to go AWOL, and possibly murder someone. She enlists her good family friend Simon to help solve the mysterious disappearance, restore her reputation, and clear her name.
She is somewhat hampered by what she can do and to gain access to information. The authors show through the characters the restrictions on women. A woman during that era was not free to travel alone. They are basically subservient to men including having to turn over any of their own property when married.
Another interesting part of the book is the comparison with that era and current times. How easily people take for granted the way detectives solve crimes today. During that period intuition, questioning, and connecting the dots were the tools used instead of DNA, ballistics, and fingerprints.
An Unwilling Accomplice not only has an enthralling plot but also provides historical insight into the time period. As always there are wonderful plot twists, and an ending you might not expect. This book is a mystery, historical novel, and psychological thriller all rolled into one.
Q/A with author below:
An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd is a great read. Not only does it have a riveting mysterious plot but it also has details about English society during the World War I period. Since this month marks the 100th anniversary of the war people might want to read this book to immerse themselves in that era. The plot has Bess along with her good family friend Simon setting out to solve the mysterious disappearance of a soldier under her care, as well as attempting to restore Bess’s reputation and clear her name.
Elise Cooper: Did you decide to attend the Military Book Fair on November 8th on the USS Midway because your plots are centered on military issues?
Todds (Caroline and Charles): We are looking forward to it. This family loves ships and has seen a lot of World War II vessels. It is going to be nice to meet people from the military and the civilian folks who read our books. You are right, military issues are the background of our novels. We hope people will come by and at least say hello.
EC: Did people in that era revere the King?
Todds: The King had a very special place in people’s hearts. He was referred to with an upper case letter, not a lower case one, because he was so respected. Titles are important to the English. Just look at the way Bess refers to her superior, as ‘Matron’ not by her name and again the ‘M’ is capitalized and so is the ‘S’ in Sister Crawford. It is how they saw the world during that time period.
EC: Is World War I another character in your books?
Todds: Almost, since it plays such an intricate part in all the books. War defined the characters. We want to show what it is like in England during the war. You cannot go through something like that and not change. The character of our other novel, Ian Rutledge, is affected by the war. He is crippled in a different way. He has become unsure of his previous skills and has lost confidence, struggling to find who he was. Bess mentions several times how the wounds she saw haunt her. She has a strong sense of duty and self-reliance. We wrote these books to take a look at how the war influenced the characters and the effect it had on the way the characters approached and solved mysteries.
EC: What are some of the examples of the War’s effect?
Todds: The legacy of the war changed people’s outlooks and the dynamics of the countryside. Before this war people did not even know those in the village next door. But WWI brought about a blending of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and races. There were people from India, New Zealand, Australia, and London all serving in the English army. There were people who never traveled more than twenty miles who now found themselves in Belgium and Paris.
EC: You seem to point out the difference between those who served then and now. True?
Todds: During World War I everywhere you went there were wounded. Think about the statistic that in England alone five million people died, and that number does not include those wounded. There was much more of a connection between the civilians and the military. That is why we put in the book, “Everyone was in uniform. Even the wounded had special ones to wear while recuperating to show the world they had done their duty.” The wounded had special blue uniforms to show that they had served proudly and should be treated with respect. Consider that and compare it to the poor Vietnam vet who was treated so shamefully.
EC: This book also examines the role of deserters. Can you explain?
Todds: They were shot, pure and simple. Someone who did not carry out their duties was considered disgraceful. They were shunned by their family as much as the country. Women handed out white feathers to cowards who were not serving in the military. Even Rutledge who suffered from PTSD did not tell anyone how he felt because he was afraid he would be seen as a coward.
EC: Through the female characters you show how women were treated during that era?
Todds: Women in society were entrapped. Bess was different because she grew up in India. She was not a part of the straight-laced Victorian rules. Her mother was a great influence since she became the head of the social framework of the regiment in India. Bess sees her mother in an independent light and sees herself as not someone who would acquiesce.
EC: What would you want the readers to get out of the story?
Todds: Besides a good entertaining plot, some insight into that era. Through the mystery a glimpse of what the world was really like. A pedestrian view where the readers will feel like they were actually a part of the story.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
Todds: The next Rutledge book will be out in January 2015 entitled A Fine Summer’s Day. Marking the anniversary of WWI we will take him back to 1914, showing how and why he ended up in the army. Highlighting his past allows us to see what led to issues important to his life. We want to pursue what kind of man would he have been if the war did not come along. He will have choices to make: to choose between the Yard and his country, between love and duty, and between honor and truth.
EC: What about Bess since you seem to hint in this book the war is coming to an end?
Todds: There will be two more books about the war years. After that we will possibly pursue a book that will throw Bess into the midst of the English/Irish crisis. In another book we would like to take Bess on a visit to India where she will also explore Simon’s background. We will stay in this era and not put Bess into World War II. If we do a WWII book we will write a whole new character. The World War I era is important to Bess’ character because that helps us define her relationship to the military and its relationship to colonial times.