The Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford)
by Charles Todd
Cover Artist: Background & forest by Carmen Spitznagel / Trevillion Images;
Nuse by Stephen Mulcahey / Arcangel Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062386274
Date: 30 August 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
The horrors of WWI are revisited in Charles Todd's intriguing mystery, The Shattered Tree. Having missed reading the previous two novels in the Bess Crawford series (A Pattern of Lies and An Unwilling Accomplice), I felt as though I was visiting a dear friend. I admire Bess tremendously. She voluntarily left her aristocratic British family in order to tend to the wounded and dying. She is constantly in harm's way. In past novels, she has had close brushes with death. This time around, she nearly dies when a sniper's bullet strikes her in the side. Her tenacious search for the mysterious, elusive Philippe Moreau not only hinders her recovery, but puts her in grave danger. A desperate villain attempts to kill Bess in order to keep their secrets hidden.
To be honest, The Shattered Tree begins as a simple spy novel; it didn't really grab my attention. However, when it becomes evident that the villain is involved in the slaughter of an innocent family and their servants, my interest soared and I couldn't put down the novel. The murder of the Lavaud family was like a scene from a horror movie. It was gruesome, even by today's standards.
Bess Crawford travels several times to a small hamlet, Petite Beauvais, outside of Paris, in search of clues. She visits the cottage of a deceased governess, Fräulein Teissen, who was related to Philippe Moreau. Bess discovers an extremely strange, dysfunctional family, the likes of which I have never encountered in literature. The topic of child abuse is heavily explored.
Several attractive men are eager to help Bess during her research. Two of them are long-time friends, Simon Brandon and Captain Barkley. One of them has ulterior motives for aiding her. Secrets always abound in the Bess Crawford novels. Hiding and keeping secrets is a part of war and these novels definitely reinforce my hatred of war. War should always be avoided.
There is a tremendous amount of suffering and loss of life. Many soldiers die from infection. Many lose one or more limbs. Food shortages are everywhere. Numerous villages appear to be deserted because all of their young men are serving in the war. In The Shattered Tree, the year is 1918 and the atmosphere is rife with rumors of the war ending soon. However, people are too weary to get excited. War is slowly becoming a way of life for them.
As always, the writing is impeccable and convincing. Readers might believe Charles Todd experienced WWI firsthand. Enough attention is given to period clothing, food, language, culture, etc., to make the story believable without bogging it down with unnecessary details. The novel's mystery is gruesome and intriguing. Who massacred the Lavaud family? Readers don't discover the shocking truth until nearly the novel's end. In fact, there are quite a few shocks in this novel, which has more than one villain. Adding to the tension is the countdown; Bess must discover the killer's identity before her gunshot wound is healed and she is sent back to the forward aid station in Rouen where she will resume her nursing duties.
Nurse Bess Crawford remains a very admirable detective; she is extremely loyal, patriotic, and sympathetic. She demonstrates great compassion towards one soldier, Jerome Karadag, who is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is one of the few who realizes that soldiers can become mentally impaired as well as physically injured from the horrors and atrocities of war. I hope the war ends but not the Bess Crawford series. Perhaps she'll continue solving postwar mysteries. Nevertheless, I would love to read the next installment in this enthralling historical mystery series.