First Sentence: He crawled as far as the shattered tree and lay there, faint from the effort.
WWI field nurse Bess Crawford treats a soldier brought in with severe laceration to his feet, blood loss and exhaustion. Although he claims to be French, Bess wonders whether he is, in fact, German, but he’s transferred to a hospital in Paris before she can investigate further. When Bess is wounded, she is also sent to Paris to recuperate, but she is also determined to find out the truth about the soldier. Can she do it without losing her own life in the process?
Todd skillfully introduces us to Bess and the supporting characters in such a way that we know who they are and how they are associated with one another. Certainly Bess’ family connections help her along, and there are a few too many coincidences. They do help move the plot along, but it is a bit overly convenient.
Todd is very good about portraying the horror and hardship of war without being overly graphic. A very strong sense of time and place is established. Rather than the usual mouth-watering descriptions of food we’d expect in France, we are made aware of the extreme food shortages of the period—“The food shortage was no laughing matter. What passed for coffee would have made Paris ashamed in any other situation, there was no tea at all, and the wine had been watered. Even the bread, always such a wonder compared to anything England could offer, no longer had that crisp crust surrounding such lightness. Instead it was heavy and the crust darker than the usual golden color."
For those of us who’s knowledge of history may be lacking there is a brief summary of the was in France and Belgium, and of how civilian nurses came into being, as well as about the Paris Gun. Such information adds both interest and veracity to the story.
Bess is a wonderfully drawn, fully dimensional character. She’s an excellent representative of all those women left behind who then used their skills and strength to help win this, and all, wars. One cannot help but admire her for her strength, intelligence, determination and her moral resolve.
“The Shattered Tree” is a very good, albeit somewhat complicated story, with several very effective twists. It is well plotted with everything neatly tied together at the end.
THE SHATTERED TREE (Trad Mys-Bess Crawford-France-WWI/1918) – VG
Todd, Charles – 8th in series
Willliam Morrow – Aug 2016