Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
ISBN 0062388959 - Paperback $15.99
William Morrow Paperbacks (January 10, 2017), 400 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return....
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong--Eurasian--and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she's led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother's protection, she can survive only if the estate's new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Dialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing's life as the Yangs' bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love. . . Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.
Dragon Springs Road takes us to China at the turn of the century, close to the time of the Opium Wars, of foreign missionaries teaching Chinese religion and English, when women suffered foot binding and family restraints on their freedoms, education, opportunities.
We meet our heroine when she is 7 years old, living with her mother in an remote compound. They are friends with a "fox spirit". Her mother has a wealthy patron who occasionally visits for an evening (during which Jialing stays out of sight). When Jialing's mother's patron goes bankrupt, her mother leaves for a short trip -- and does not return. While Jialing stays on the estate as a bondservant of the new owners, she learns what it means to be alone, Eurasian, and poor. Jialing is tough, positive, and loyal -- as she faces all sorts of prejudices and problems, she finds friends and ways to survive. Dragon Springs Road delivers a satisfying tale of a young girl with ambition, smarts, and bad luck living in a quickly changing China. Janie Chang's story drew me in from the start. If you're interested in China in this period, it's a wonderful read!
About the Author:
Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer's Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Three Souls.