Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

The Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford, Book #8)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: August 30th 2016
2016 William Morrow
Ebook Edition; 287 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062386274
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

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?

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.

My Thoughts
The Shattered Tree is the eight entry into the Bess Crawford mysteries and while I don't feel it was one of the better one in the series, it was okay.  What draws me to these stories is definitely the atmosphere that Todd creates, the impact of the Great War on everyone, not just on the soldiers and others manning the front lines.  I usually like Bess as a character and typically look forward to the stories and the descriptions of the places where she goes as well as the people she meets.

True to form, the atmosphere of hope was quite palpable throughout the novel as people were preparing for the end of the war, and although it could have gone either way at this point, most people were quite hopeful in a satisfying ending, and were now talking about reparations and the future and survival.  While some of the earlier novels could be quite bleak, the feeling was a bit different despite the sad soldiers' tales and the descriptions of life at the front.  I found the sniper story to be quite interesting as well, especially the dialogue around it - the gentleman's 'code of honour' was still quite strong during this time period and I find the whole thing fascinating.  At the same time, the horror of it lingers in every page that Todd writes - the scents, the smells, the food, the shortages, the fatigue, the injuries, etc...  

While I normally love Bess as a character, to me, she fell a little flat in this one.  I found her somewhat irritating, and had a hard time understanding her reasoning behind her continued investigations.  This is one time I really felt she should have just revealed her information to the proper authorities and let them investigate in their own way.  The author failed to convince me that Bess needed to investigate, and I thought she was interfering far more than she was helping. And even Captain Barkley, the American soldier, couldn't seem to help matters as he took on more of a secondary role; normally he is quite an enjoyable sidekick to Bess's adventures, and a good sounding board, but to me, I thought he was a whole different person from the normal Captain Barkley we are used to.  I even double-checked his name to make sure he was the same person because he seemed a bit different.  There is way more to Barkley than meets the eye however, but his secrets still remain secret and I was somewhat disappointed in this.  A bit more information to tease the reader would have been nice. 

The Shattered Tree is one of those books that I enjoyed on a superficial level, but just didn't connect with on a deeper level.  I had a hard time empathizing with Bess and her reasons for investigating, which made her seem like a nose neighbour; she even had moments where she was quite insensitive, an unusual characteristic for Bess.  I have always liked Captain Barkley and Sergeant-Major Brandon and was glad to see them make an appearance in this one; I am still holding out hope for Bess and Simon and with the war ending soon, who knows? While I was not sold on the mystery in this one, and thought Bess solved the mystery far too easily given the facts she had, I still enjoyed the writing style and loved the descriptions.  I am curious as to what he authors have in store for our characters now that the war is almost over.