“The Shattered Tree” by Charles Todd reunites nurse Bess Crawford with Capt. Barkley, an old acquaintance from a previous book. As with all their books the riveting mystery is combined with facts surrounding World War I. It is almost as if the Great War has become a secondary character within the plots. Readers will enjoy learning and comparing what happened during the World War to the modern warfare of today.
In this story, Bess does not have the support groups of the past: Her parents, her landlady, and for the most part Simon only make a cameo appearance. Not only must she work with different characters but she is also placed in a different environment — Paris, France. Having to find a new support group she befriends a Nun, a fellow nurse in Rouen France, a major recuperating in the same hospital, and the Captain, an American fighting with the Canadians who is in France searching for deserters. What makes their interaction enjoyable is that she uses these people for support while questioning their trustworthiness and motives.
The plot begins with Bess treating a wounded officer. He is not British, but is considered French until in a moment of anger shouts at her in German. Her superior, Matron, suggests that the soldier must be from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, and now is in German hands. Bess is unsure of his loyalties and wonders if he could be a spy. Unable to do anything because he has been sent back to Paris she leaves her suspicions simmer. That is until she is wounded by a sniper and finds herself recuperating in Paris. It is here she decides to investigate and uncover the truth about his loyalties.
“Nurses at the front were in danger because snipers see a target and just shoot,” the Todds said. “For years after World War I it was bad luck to light three cigarettes off the same match. If someone was in the trenches, the Germans would watch the first one flare, the second one flare, and then would be ready to shoot when the third one flared.”
Always interesting is how the authors (Charles Todd writes with his mother, Caroline) incorporate the time period into their story. People today forget how the civilian populations during World War I became a part of the war effort including having to make sacrifices. They had to deal with shortages of eggs, flour, butter, and gas. These rations also affected the way coffee was made, so many chose wine instead. A quote from the book hammers the point home, “Instead of a clear-cut victory, I thought we were all going to be starved into submission.”
What is always captivating is for readers to compare and contrast the war attitudes then and today. Although it’s the 100th anniversary of World War I the outlook of those fighting have not changed, finding camaraderie with their fellow soldiers. A powerful quote, “They had struggled to rescue the wounded who had fallen out of reach in No Man’s Land…And still they wanted to go back. They could not betray the men who were still out there, dying in their place. It wasn’t courage or heroism, it was a strong sense of duty to men they were closer to than brothers or parents or wives. A comradeship of shared fear and blood and determination.”
The Todds wrote this to explain, “We wanted to point out what they were going through. They could understand each other because of the common ground.”
“The Shattered Tree” is a very plot driven story. The characters enhanced the story but were more like tools for getting across the horrific nature of war. Through the gripping mystery readers will understand how loyalties were questioned, and the hardships faced by those having to endure World War I.