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by Charles Todd
HarperCollins, October 2013
272 pages
ISBN: 0062236873

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in France visiting her friend Madeleine when the Germans decide to invade Belgium. This makes her return to England a little dicey. She finds herself on the French coast, where the Germans are shelling. Captain Peter Gilchrist steps in to help her get home safely. She can't forget him. Neither can she forget Alain, Madeleine's brother. She's had a crush on him for years, and thought he never really paid attention to her. Just before he left for the front, he asked her if he could speak to her guardian when the next opportunity came along. Elspeth had said yes and taken a ring from Alain, which was tantamount (in 1914) to a pre-engagement ring. She never did mention Alain to Peter; it seemed a moot point since she had no expectation of ever seeing Peter again.

Of course, had life turned out that way, there would be no book. When Elspeth gets back to England, she trains as a nurse in Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. She neglects to tell them that she has a title. She also neglects to tell her guardian/cousin Kenneth, who is her guardian until she is thirty, what she is doing. After training, she is sent back to France.

She has family and friends serving in France. Her friend Madeleine's husband is one of them, and Elspeth worries about him now that Madeleine is pregnant. She encounters Peter again; she hears news of Alain. And she sees, day after day, what kinds of wounds the war is inflicting on the men of her generation. Not all the wounds are physical; sometimes the nature of the wounds compounds the normal mental distress of being injured.

Cousin Kenneth finds out that she has been a nurse in France instead of living whatever life he imagined she was living in London. The QAIMNS informs her that she signed on under false pretenses and must resign, turn in her uniforms, etc. She is at a loss; what is she to do now? Peter reenters her life at this point. The choices she makes from now on become more and more difficult.

Todd writes about WWI very convincingly. Elspeth is portrayed as a woman used to getting her own way, although being from Scotland, she's slightly more practical than most socialites seem to be. The choices in men are also believable; either is quite capable of being a man she could spend her life with. The only aspect of THE WALNUT TREE that doesn't ring true is the uncanny ability Elspeth has not only to find a car to use whenever she needs one, but also the petrol needed to drive however far she needs to at any given moment. Readers attracted by the Todd name may be a bit disappointed as the mystery element here is minimal at best. But Todd does write a nice romance, although there are moments when the reality of war, and what it does to people, casts a shadow.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, October 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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