A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd is a suspenseful story with engaging characters. Their best books are the ones that flesh out the hero and heroine, allowing readers to get to know more and more of the beloved characters, in this case Bess Crawford. The story delves into the very dark aftermath of WW1 that has left many embittered and broken men.
The story compassionately relates how the war has ended, but the suffering and agony of the injured has not disappeared. Bess is tending to soldiers who lost limbs and are suicidal. A group of Welsh soldiers, whose serious injuries make their future employment doubtful, feel they have no reason to live. Worried about being a financial drain upon their families, they often commit suicide in an effort to eliminate the problem. Coal miners by profession, they are now unable to perform the grueling, physical labor required. This includes Captain Hugh Williams, someone Bess has built a bond with. After being discharged, he writes Bess a letter detailing the suicides of some soldiers she nursed back to health, and asks for her help in preventing others from taking their life. Able to get a few days leave, Bess seeks out Williams, ending up in a desolate, secretive, and isolated town on the Welsh coast. When bodies wash ashore, it becomes clear, that the villagers have a secret, one that they are willing to kill for. Because she assumes it is her responsibility to investigate she puts her life in danger as the villagers’ hostility towards her increases.
The vivid description of the Gower Peninsula in southern Wales creates the right atmosphere for a suspenseful story. Its stormy weather, harsh, unforgiving landscape, and unfriendly citizens adds a level of menace to the mystery.
Elise Cooper: The setting plays an important role in the story?
Todds: It started out when we were in Wales and stumbled across this area. We went down to this peninsula and saw it is very isolated. There is this beautiful bay at its end. If you look at the jacket you can see a pale blue line below Bess. This is the actual view we had looking down at the bay. We knew we had to set a story here.
EC: You mention a piece of land called “the Worm”?
Todds: It is a peninsula within a peninsula that looks like a worm or dragon. It is a spit of land that almost has a natural break water. Think back to the old maps of the world where in the sea there would be these sea serpents jetting out from the headland. If you go on line you can see pictures of “The Worm” in Wales.
EC: It is also a story about amputees?
Todds: German machine gunners took people out from their knees down, basically mowing them down. They did this knowing an injured solider would take two fit men to take them off the battlefield. A lot of men lost legs as a result of these machine gunners. We wanted to show the psychological burden these men had to go through, because back then many did not have a way to regain their place in society. These men did the physical work of mining and their injuries prevented them from being employed. We wrote this book quote, “Their wounds had done what the Germans never could-broken their spirits.” A prayer of almost every man in the Great War, ‘I don’t mind dying, but please don’t maim me.’
EC: The book also has a mystery element?
Todds: Bess had to solve the mystery by putting the clues together bit by bit. The townspeople didn’t want strangers to come down and take everything away. They were desperate to keep their secrets. They live their lives by their own set of rules where everyone knows each other’s business. They resent newcomers coming in and spoiling their world. The mystery is centered around “The Worm,” the isolation of the small town, and a shipwreck during the Charles II era that we twisted to make a story.
EC: Two townspeople that helped Bess were Captain Hugh Williams and his sister-in-law Rachel. How would you describe them?
Todds: Hugh is a survivor, responsible, and protective. He found he was still useful after moving in to help Rachel. He is a success story.
Rachel is dependent on Hugh and seeks his companionship.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
Todds: It is an Ian Rutledge novel, entitled, The Black Ascot, out in February 2019. Based on a true event, a murder cold case, he looks into years later.
Over at Goodreads:
A Forgotten Place
The fighting has ended, the Armistice signed, but the war has left wounds that are still agonizingly raw. Battlefield Nurse Bess Crawford has been assigned to a clinic for amputees, and the Welsh patients worry her. She does her best to help them, but it’s clear that they have nothing to go home to, in a valley where only the fit can work in the coal pits. When they are released, she fears that peace will do what war couldn’t—take their lives.
Their officer, Captain Williams, writes to describe their despair, and his own at trying to save his men. Bess feels compelled to look into their situation, but the Army and the clinic can do nothing. Requesting leave, she quietly travels to Wales, and that bleak coal mining village, but she is too late.
Captain Williams’ sister tells Bess he has left the valley. Bess is afraid he intends to kill himself. She follows him to an isolated, storm-battered peninsula—a harsh and forgotten place where secrets and death go hand in hand. Deserted by her frightened driver, Bess is stranded among strangers suspicious of outsiders. She quickly discovers these villagers are hiding something, and she’s learned too much to be allowed to leave. What’s more, no one in England knows where she is.
Why is there no Constable out here? And who is the mysterious Ellen? Captain Williams and his brother’s widow are her only allies, and Bess must take care not to put them at risk as she tries to find answers. But there is a murderer here who is driven to kill again and again. And the next person in his sights is Simon Brandon, searching for Bess and unaware of his danger . . .