Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd (A Bess Crawford Mystery)
The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd
France, October 1918. Though the war is nearing its end, the German enemy refuses to go quietly. During a nighttime barrage, British stretcher bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds, clinging to life at the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire. The soldier is brought to Bess Crawford's aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a base hospital.
Surprisingly, the officer isn't British -- he's wearing the tattered remains of a French uniform. And even stranger, when he shouts out in anger and pain, he speaks in fluent German.
When Bess reports the incident to the hospital's matron, her weary superior offers a plausible explanation. The soldier must be from the Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which was won by the Germans. Of course, Matron could be right. Still, Bess remains uneasy -- and unconvinced. What was a French soldier doing so far from his own lines. . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight? And if he is Alsatian, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Before she can inquire further, Bess is wounded while helping to evacuate soldiers from the battlefield. Sent to Paris to recuperate, she discovers that her mysterious soldier is also in the French capital. . . but has disappeared. Could he have been the infamous German spotter for the "Paris Gun" that is the talk of the Allied Army? It had shelled terrified Parisians earlier in the year, then fell silent. Or could he be involved in some other dark treachery?
With the unexpected help of Captain Barkley, the congenial American whose path crossed with hers once before, the intrepid Bess -- a soldier's daughter and dedicated nurse -- embarks on a dangerous hunt to find the man and uncover the truth, even at the risk of her own life.
I am an avid fan of historical mysteries in general and of these Bess Crawford mysteries in particular. This latest novel gives us the familiar sense of frustration as Bess ignores her safety to take on obligations and make difficult promises to virtual strangers in order to fulfill her sense of honor and justice. There are junctures where I was begging her to tell Simon or another military ally what dangers she faces, but Bess is determined to assert her independence and follow her instincts. It's both admirable and foolhardy. Her instincts take her to considerable danger and to the dark world of espionage.
The Shattered Tree does have those heartwarming moments when Bess and character shine through. She wins the loyalty of the people she meets and many soldiers who she's treated are fiercely protective. I find it satisfying when her personality comes across and strict officials recognize the value of the work that she does. Bess is determined, smart, fearless to the point of being near foolhardy - she's an endearing heroine. The Shattered Tree takes us on another satisfying adventure!
About the Authors:
Charles Todd is the author of the Bess Crawford mysteries, the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.