The war had ended, but not the suffering."
In A Forgotten Place, Bess Crawford travels to Caudle, an isolated, wild, windswept coastal Welsh village, on the hunt for Captain Hugh Williams. For Bess--and for Hugh and for Bess's other patients--the war has finished in quite a
different sense. From the burn victims and the mentally damaged to the amputees, there are no conquering heroes; there will be no victory parades. Involved in the steady repatriation of troops, Bess travels from Dover to London and Mrs. Hennessey's flat, which over four years has become a sort of second home for her.
When a dead corporal washes up on Caudle's beach, Bess wonders whether he's one of her beloved Welsh soldiers who is longer the concern of the Army. After Bess's driver disappears, leaving in the middle of the night, Bess finds herself stranded. What Bess actually discovers in Caudle creates a nuanced backdrop of Welsh village life after the Great War as the population mourns an entire generation of men lost on the battlefields of France. Beyond the "Worm" that rises out of the sea, Bess is a little shocked and disappointed at the superstitious villagers and the fact that there is apparently no policeman to give her a lift to Swansea. Rachel and Hugh love her but refuse to help Bess in the investigation of the two men who have come to grief, washing up in the bay with no identification, "not even a small cross to comfort their souls."
Following the clues to an abandoned coast guard station, Bess enters into the orbits of lonely Mr. Griffith, who lost his son in France; wealthy Ellen Marshall and her friend, Oliver Martin; and Mr. Wilson, the secretive rector. Bess is agitated by Caudle's women, who stand like sentinels "watching the sea for the first glimpse of a sail." How is it that a treasure ship coming ashore has changed this village? How had the slow trickle of silver over the centuries drained away the conscience of those who benefited from it? Though there's a complicity of silence, Bess is convinced secrets will come out whether the villagers like it or not.
What was the catalyst? Was it the arrival of Hugh, the outsider? Or the dead man who the villagers want to believe is his brother, Tom? Someone in this village is a murderer. Sooner or later, there's going to be "a hue and cry." Stranded Bess learns of Caudle's secrets, the hastily buried soldiers and the long-buried silver: "I wasn't to be trusted not to bring more trouble down up on them by telling other outsiders what I knew." Bess ultimately thinks she has brought trouble to his village.
Todd's episodic series continues to expand Bess's development from the perspective of her own losses during the war and its impact on her current life. Simon Brandon, Hugh and Rachel impress the reader with their quirky personalities and the balance they add to the mix. At the center of the novel stands Bess and her ode to the dying men and their loss of hope that she's done her best to heal. She gives good advice about acceptance and acknowledgement of the dreams of others, and she does seem to be more accepting of Simon's choice to be her knight in shining armor.
A Forgotten Place lays out the fears of life after the war. Through the first half of this book, I worried that it would be a fairly predictable whodunnit, but halfway through, the novel becomes a rich and mysterious stew of aspects of life in remote Caudle as well as an exploration of the sufferings of England's repatriated soldiers. As Bess attempts to piece together all of Caudle's secrets, Todd's story morphs into an authentic, moving human tale.