I love Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series, so I asked for The Walnut Tree for Christmas. It’s promoted as a “holiday tale,” but the first thing you should know is that you really don’t need to read it then. Although Christmas Eve figures in an important scene, most of the book is not set during the holidays.
The story concerns Lady Elspeth Douglas, a member of the Scottish nobility who hides her identity in order to become a nursing sister during World War I. She’s one of Bess Crawford’s London flatmates, and Bess flits in and out of the story but is not a major character. The book is not a mystery.
Although it was interesting to read about her transformation from daughter of an earl to a nurse dealing with the worst humanity has to offer, Elspeth never really came to life for me. During the story she wavers between two men, both of whom wish to ask for her hand in marriage, and she keeps trying to do the honorable thing by one of them while being purposely dishonest with the other — it just didn’t make sense. Moreover, I didn’t get a strong feeling for how another character sees Bess, other than as the daughter of a colonel, which was what I had most hoped to find.
So, in a couple of ways the story was disappointing. However, it was a perfect New Year’s Eve read — engaging, quick and about one of my favorite periods of time. It would be impossible to read it without gaining a greater appreciation for nurses in general and especially during this particular war.
And, if nothing else, The Walnut Tree made me even more anxious for the next Bess Crawford mystery.