Mystery Review: The Shattered Tree
Today we have another Great Escapes Blog tour, a mystery set among the violence and chaos of WWI.
Title: The Shattered Tree
Author: Charles Todd
Publisher: William Morrow, 2016. 290 pages.
Source: Publisher's ARC through Great Escapes Tours
At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn’t British—he’s French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.
When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he was a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines...and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?
When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.
I had to sign on to this tour because as my long-time readers may know, WWI is one of "my" periods (by which I mean that I'm very interested in the history of the time and read a lot of non-fiction about the war, especially personal accounts in an attempt to understand what it was like). I didn't regret signing up for this one at all.
The book is the 8th in the Bess Crawford series, but I had no trouble picking this up and reading it. I was at times aware that there was a history between characters that I didn't know, but the author gives just the right amount of information--so that I didn't feel "left out," but the story wasn't bogged down with explanations. I may have to go back and start from the beginning on the series, but that's mostly because it's good.
The book doesn't have a conventional "whodunnit" plot; although murder comes into it, the chief mystery is the identity of the mysterious officer. That mystery is gradually untangled, and solutions found for awkward problems, all within the time constraints of Bess's Paris leave. I was rapidly drawn into the story, and Bess's uneasiness about the mysterious officer, and none of her actions seemed unreasonable, as at times amateur detectives can be. There were a few moments early on when I wasn't not sure why she should be so obsessed, but the hint that he might be a German spy--and the lack of anyone to take that concern seriously--provides a sufficient motive to get her started, and soon the pursuit provides its own impetus.
The writing in the book is tight and the period clearly well-researched, and setting (time and place) are central to the book in a way that I appreciate.
It sounds strange to call a book a "cozy" mystery when it's set in the grim realities of WWI, but it does in fact fall into that category: there is just enough peril, and the characters and their relationships are the center of the story (and the mystery). I recommend The Shattered Tree to fans of the historical period and of well-written mysteries without excessive violence or gore.
Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.
Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great-uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.
Charles learned the rich history of Britain, including the legends of King Arthur, William Wallace, and other heroes, as a child. Books on Nelson and by Winston Churchill were always at hand. Their many trips to England gave them the opportunity to spend time in villages and the countryside, where there’s different viewpoint from that of the large cities. Their travels are at the heart of the series they began ten years ago.
Charles’s love of history led him to a study of some of the wars that shape it: the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. He enjoys all things nautical, has an international collection of seashells, and has sailed most of his life. Golf is still a hobby that can be both friend and foe. And sports in general are enthusiasms. Charles had a career as a business consultant. This experience gave him an understanding of going to troubled places where no one was glad to see him arrive. This was excellent training for Rutledge’s reception as he tries to find a killer in spite of local resistance. [The Ninja Librarian notes: the Todds are also authors of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries.]
Caroline has always been a great reader and enjoyed reading aloud, especially poetry that told a story. The Highwayman was one of her early favorites. Her wars are WWI, the Boer War, and the English Civil War, with a sneaking appreciation of the Wars of the Roses as well. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the world, gardening, or painting in oils. Her background in international affairs backs up her interest in world events, and she’s also a sports fan, an enthusiastic follower of her favorite teams in baseball and pro football. She loves the sea, but is a poor sailor. (Charles inherited his iron stomach from his father.) Still, she has never met a beach she didn’t like.
Both Caroline and Charles share a love of animals, and family pets have always been rescues. There was once a lizard named Schnickelfritz. Don’t ask.
Writing together is a challenge, and both enjoy giving the other a hard time. The famous quote is that in revenge, Charles crashes Caroline’s computer, and Caroline crashes his parties. Will they survive to write more novels together? Stay tuned! Their father/husband is holding the bets.
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FTC Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of The Shattered Tree from the publisher, and was given nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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