It's 1914, and the Germans have overrun Belgium. In Paris visiting her friend Madeleine, Lady Elspeth Douglas accepts Madeleine's brother when he proposes marriage before leaving to join his regiment. Elspeth tries to return to England and finds herself caught in the shelling along the French coast. Handsome Captain Peter Gilchrist comes to her rescue, and Elspeth returns to London and safety. She soon finds that she cannot forget the horrors she saw during the fighting-- and she can't forget Gilchrist. Abandoning her title and the life of ease she has known all her life, Elspeth trains as a nurse and returns to France. She is going to have to choose between duty to the man she promised to marry and the man who captured her heart... unless the war makes her decision for her.
This is a light and very enjoyable read from the mother and son writing team responsible for two excellent historical mystery series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge and nurse Bess Crawford. In The Walnut Tree, Charles Todd takes one of the nurses Bess Crawford rooms with in London, gives her a privileged background, breathes life into her, and then sets her on her own adventure. Yes, Lady Elspeth Douglas has ties to the Bess Crawford mysteries, but this book is not part of the series-- although the authors couldn't resist adding a very light (and fun) subplot involving art theft into the narrative.
One of the things I liked the most about the character of Elspeth was her Scots heritage. She speaks the Gaelic and on more than one occasion is able to help soldiers in the Scots regiments in ways that highlight the power of clan ties and obligations. She is strong and intelligent, capable and loyal, and I was caught in her dilemma as she struggled to do what was right without hurting either of the men she loved.
This book is called a holiday tale, but it is not set solely during the Christmas season. However, it does underscore several holiday themes-- love, faith, peace, service, and even tiny bits of magic and miracles, too. If you like a lot of romance in your love stories, you might find this one a little too light for your taste. For those like myself who are not fans of the romance genre, the love story should be just about perfect. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, or if you enjoy the Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford mysteries, I think you'll enjoy reading The Walnut Tree.
The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd
William Morrow & Company © 2013
Paperback, 248 pages
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen