Book Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

Posted September 23, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd
Series: Bess Crawford #8
Genres: Mystery, Historical
Published by William Morrow on August 30, 2016
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also in this series: Question of Honor

Also by this author: Question of Honor, An Unwilling Accomplice, Hunting Shadows, A Pattern of Lies, A Fine Summer's Day, No Shred of Evidence, Racing the Devil, A Casualty of War, The Gate Keeper, A Forgotten Place, The Black Ascot, A Divided Loyalty

Eighth in the Bess Crawford historical mystery series that takes place during World War I and revolving around Sister Crawford, a battlefield nurse in October of 1918.

My Take

Arghh! This was both fascinating and frustrating! Both well-written and ill-written. Well in that I raced along, dying to know the truth. Ill in that I couldn’t see where Bess was making the connections. It’s…hmmm…as if Bess had the script and I didn’t. And it’s the primary reason why I gave The Shattered Tree such a low score. There was simply too much that didn’t make sense. At first I thought I simply wasn’t picking up on all these twisting clues, but it was too convoluted, and Todd didn’t provide either connections or show to intimate the possibilities, as going back over my notes proved.

It is an interesting story. One in which Bess realizes she’s lacking her usual resources. A realization that spurs her on to consider what she does have access to. It does surprise me that this is only the eighth story in this series. I feel as though I know Bess so very well.

I do like Bess’ reasons for not wanting to ask one and all for help. God knows too many have been content to settle for closing a case rather than finding out the truth. I did like Major Vernon. He was good at figuring out quite a lot from the little Bess or Barkley said.

Hah, Bess discovers what a pain it is to be on the other side of the hospital bed, *laughing* She also gets to try out that fancy new gadget: the X-ray machine. Todd makes me see this time period, the mores, styles, clothing, and especially the privations of war as well as the level of medical care available. Wouldn’t the medical people of the time stare at penicillin and antibiotics, let alone how shell shock is treated these days?

I don’t know if it’s my exposure to what we’ve learned about medical treatment since those days, but I should have thought it was fairly obvious as to how the wounded should be cared for. What Todd describes in the early days of the war is so incredibly disgusting. How could people think this was acceptable? Even by this time, people were fanatical about scrubbing their front doorstep! They had a good idea as to how typhoid was spread. How could they not make even a basic connection??

There’s a mention of how well Belgium rallied against the Germans, and it’s not something I remember from my history classes on this time period. Too small a detail to waste time on, I reckon, *eye roll* Another bit of history that showcases the different perspectives of combatants is when Todd mentions the War of 1870 as opposed to the Franco–Prussian War that unified Germany. Bad idea, that.

There was a tidy bit of foreshadowing there about writers and artists in Paris after the war.

Okay, maybe it’s mean of me, but how can those wounded men be so tacky as to destroy someone’s house?

Now for my niggles…

Why would Barkley be so reticent about talking to Bess? Especially with what she learns at the end! Where does Bess get these ideas about Barkley? Oh, wait. I keep forgetting she has the script with advance knowledge. I do wish Todd had provided more show, so I didn’t feel as though Todd was skipping great chunks of hints. And, no, telling me she’s suspicious of Barkley does NOT count. Where does Bess get the idea she shouldn’t talk to the cop? This feels as if Todd is manufacturing drama. And not very well.

Why would the cops claim different witnesses? Why would they lie? What was the point? Why not believe Marie-Luc? Why would the Karadegs react as they do?? It didn’t make sense even before I got to the ending. Why do Barkley and Vernon try to keep so much from her? Why does Bess think she has to fake collecting something from the governess’ house? Bess’ conclusion as to who the attacker really was definitely tells me that Todd was telling her ahead of time who the true culprit was because there was ABSOLUTELY NO REASON how the bad guy could have known what Bess was up to, so he could be so accommodating.

So quickly after their son’s suicide and Marie-Luc and Bess think the parents will be thrilled to know that their son doesn’t hold Marie-Luc responsible??? What kind’a drugs are they on??!

One of the few realistic bits was when Bess started to pull the clues together, even if she did have some help from seeing the script ahead of time. I know, I’m whining on about all that foreknowledge Bess has. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.

I realize Paul isn’t at fault for a number of things, but that comment he makes about “you and the Captain and the nun are still alive” made me want to smack him silly.

Ah, jesus, when the full story finally comes out. Jesus. What scum!! And I agree with Bess’ anger at the end. The betrayals that are so rife within this story…it will make you want to shout at all the injustice.

The Story

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 multiple wounds. The soldier is brought to Sister 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. It does make sense, but the war is still on, and Bess wonders 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 were 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, Bess can’t resist trying to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.

The Characters

Sister Bess Crawford is with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, a highly respected nursing organization. Colonel Crawford, a.k.a., Colonel Sahib, is her retired father, who is not so retired; her mother worries about this as well as about her daughter. Regimental Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon is the colonel’s man and retired when he did. And is just as actually retired, ahem. Thomasina is Cook’s cat. Melinda Crawford is a Crawford cousin who married a Crawford cousin and is now a widow living in Kent.

Mrs. Hennessy owns the house in London where Bess has a flat along with Diana, Lady Elspeth, and Mary. Colonel MacInnes is one of her father’s friends, tasked with checking up on her.

Captain Barkley is an American who volunteered with a Canadian unit before America entered the war (An Unmarked Grave, 4). Captain Broussard is quite considerate in lending out his motorcar.

The frontline, France
Dr. Winters is in charge of the aid station. Matron and Sisters McRae, Martin, Nelson, and Marshall are in attendance with Bess; Sister Weeks is the new one. Robinson is an ambulance driver. Arthur is an orderly.

Base hospital
Matron, Sisters Melville and Evans, and Drs. MacDonald and Webb are concerned about Bess’ wound. Millie is one of the VADs, a Voluntary Aid Detachment ward maid. Lieutenant X is the mystery Frenchman found at the shattered tree. Lieutenant MacGregor is the Scot who attacked.

Base Hospital, Rouen
Nurse Wilma Johnson has a camera. Dr. Meadows does a bit more surgery.

Hôtel de Belle-Île, Paris, had been…
…a grand private mansion, likely for a duke or ambassador, and is now a convalescent clinic where Bess is sent to finish recuperating. Others who are convalescing include Major Anderson of the Yorkshires (one of his men, Bowen, had been worked on by Bess and her medical unit, and it seems he has a French brother-in-law, Claude, who sat on a court martial case for a Lieutenant Karl Theissen from Petite-Beauvais); Major Vernon is an Intelligence officer who had thought to be a lawyer; and, Lieutenant Burrows.

Lieutenant Raymond says the Germans aren’t going quietly.

Madame Ezay works at the clinic and had been an actress as had her sister. Sisters Stevenson and Franklin and Drs. McDevitt and Wallace are some of the medical staff. Corporal Thompson is the cook’s dog who attends the reading hours.

A Breton family, Auguste Karadeg and his wife, are friends with Marie-Luc and run a café in Paris. Sergeant Jerome Karadeg is their artist son who has suffered shell shock. Inspector Duplessis is investigating Marie-Luc and Barkley’s attacks.

St. Anne’s Catholic Hospital is…
…where Marie-Luc is taken. Mother Superior is in charge of the nurses, including Sister Claire.

Lieutenant Philippe Moreau hasn’t checked in with the French Army. Madame Moreau in Fountainbleau has a son, Pierre, said to be a prisoner of the Boche. She has two married daughters: Jeanne Marie in Chartres is married to a sergeant and Henriette who married an Alsatian and lives in Nancy.

Petite-Beauvais is…
…a small village north of Paris. Monsieur le Curé, Father Robert, is the priest and has a housekeeper. Lieutenant Paul Moreau hasn’t been home in some time. Sister Marie-Luc is one of the nursing nuns who volunteered. Her old German governess, Fräulein Juliane Theissen, had lived in the village and was a Moreau cousin. Sergeant Allard came home to plant his crops.

Madame Lavaud was the grandmother, Georges and Thérèse were Victor‘s parents, and two maids who were murdered. A murder that took place during L’affaire Dreyfus when an Alastian Jewish army officer was framed for treason.

Hauptmann Theissen is a German soldier.

The Paris Gun was a nasty weapon that rained terror down on Parisians. Les marraines de guerre are wartime godmothers, women who cared for and oversaw the needs of men at the Front or convalescing. No, I have no idea if this is a genteel term for ladies of the evening or if they’re more like substitute mothers.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a mix of soft and misty blues, a metaphor for what Sister Crawford, standing on a lonely tree-lined road, is facing as she struggles to understand. The author’s name is at the top in white while the title is below it in black with the series information much much smaller in white at the bottom left.

The title has so many possibilities from The Shattered Tree under which the soldier was found to the family tree that is so messed up.

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