The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd Highlights the Horrific Nature of War
The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd combines a riveting mystery with historical facts surrounding World War I. Charles Todd is the mother-son writing team that has written nineteen books in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series which takes place shortly after World War I, and seven books in the Bess Crawford series, the latest being The Shattered Tree.
What makes these books special is the authors’ ability to be informative about the Great War, with this book being no different. It is almost as if World War I has become a secondary character. In writing their books, the Todds always felt “we are not just writing a mystery, but also how the war affected those that fought as well as the civilians. It left a distinctive mark on England. There was so much loss of life that almost every family was affected. This is the 100th Anniversary and look at how it is observed in England compared to America.”
When thinking about the dangers of war people tend to forget the precarious situations of the medical staff. “Our character Bess is going to be placed in areas where her life will also be on the line, which is a true reality of war. There were nurses who did get wounded or captured by the Germans. We always hear about the soldiers, but these British nurses like Bess were driven by duty. They were fearless in helping any wounded man. In this novel a sniper shot Bess. We hoped to get across the point that nurses took their lives in their hands because snipers looked for any movement.”
As people read these books they can see similarities between the current War on Terror and how World War I was fought. The Todds write how the Germans used a form of terrorism. “The Paris Gun used from April to August 1918 was called a ‘sneaky weapon.’ We hoped to show how it killed and intimidated many innocent civilians. It was probably the first man-made projectile that was so daunting because it was silent as it went up into the atmosphere. Since there was no scream of the shell no one knew when it was coming down until it was too late. As with terrorism, there is no warning. The physical impact was not great, but the psychological aspect was devastating. It was a desperate act by the Germans because they were losing the war. Unfortunately it was never captured so the allies never were able to get the technology.”
Another comparison is how PTSD, then called Shell Shock, was viewed. “We wanted to show how prejudice dies hard, even with soldiers who fought beside these men. Many times they were considered cowards. It was not like today where people understand that an emotional injury could be as devastating as a physical one. Both those fighting today and during World War I had no place to run or hide. They felt that in any point in time they could get killed. There was nowhere safe to go. They felt trapped with no logical way out. The British during the Great War had the attitude of a ‘stiff upper lip.’ Many times they did not understand as we do today, for the most part, that the emotions and feelings were out of the soldiers’ control.”
It’s sometimes easy to forget that modern technology was not available during World War I. Even something as simple as name recognition did not exist back then. “To address that point we wrote the book quote, ‘Officers generally wrote their (names) in a pocket or on the underside of a lapel so their body could be identified if they were dead or too badly wounded to speak.’ There were no dog tags back then. A lot of soldiers were very worried if they got badly damaged no one could identify them. They wanted their families at home to have closure and to know they were dead. Sewing names into uniforms became a pretty standard practice during the American Civil War and continued into World War I.”
The Todds drew upon past events to show how the possible antagonist was misunderstood. “We wanted to bring in the actual travesty of the Dreyfus Affair and were able to do this through our fictional character. A main part of the plot involves a wounded officer who is treated by Bess. He is not British, but is considered French until in a moment of anger he shouts at her in German. Her superior, Matron, explains that the soldier must be from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. We compared this to the Dreyfus Affair, 1894 – 1906, because we wanted readers to learn about this absolute travesty if they did not know already. A Jewish officer from the Alsace-Lorraine area became the scapegoat for the French army. They falsely accused him; yet, after going through all this betrayal and suffering he chose to defend France during World War I and World War II. With Dreyfus and our fictional character we hoped to show how someone who was not born in France proper would have their French loyalty doubted. Since those in the Alsace-Lorraine area were under German control they began to speak German to survive. People questioned on which side of the war did their sympathies really lie.”
Readers should stay tuned to see how the Todds continue to use their engaging characters as tools to enhance the story and get across the horrific nature of war.
About the contributor: Graduating from UCLA with a degree in American history, Elise Cooper has found it fascinating how the past affects the present. She is a historical fiction fan because she likes reading and learning about events, but within a good story instead of a textbook. Her book reviews and author Q&As focus on the history within the story.
Posted by Claire Morris