In Charles Todd’s The Walnut Tree Lady Elspeth Douglas, the daughter of a Scottish Earl, finds herself torn between the love of two good men in the beginning of World War I in 1914. When Elspeth visits her friend Madeleine she becomes involved with Madeleine’s older brother Alain Montigny. Though they spend little enough time together Elspeth and Alain enter into an agreement to become engaged after the war is over, when he can ask her guardian’s permission for her hand in marriage. As Alain leaves to serve in the front lines, Elspeth travels from Paris to London, and to safety. Along the way she gets herself into a bit of a scrape and is rescued by Captain Peter Gilchrist, a fellow Scot, and is almost instantly smitten.
The Walnut Tree is a quick read and was a pleasant way to while away the hours when Hurricane Sandy left me without power and reading by candlelight. I enjoyed the way the author was able to paint broad strokes that allowed readers to receive an adequate approximation of Elspeth’s station in life, the behavior expected as a result of her title and from women in her class, and the way nursing would have been frowned upon for one of her station. Elspeth is a feisty heroine looking to serve her country and her won happiness while still deferring to her duty and responsibilities as a noblewoman. She is always trying to strike the balance. As Elspeth trains in Queen Alexandra’s nursing corp and begins her assignments, information is provided about the war, troop placements, and nursing duties, procedures and schedules which were informative without being too gritty and disturbing for what is essentially a light holiday read.
The Walnut Tree is simply expressed but enjoyable, written at a bias so you know which man you want to win Elspeth’s heart and hand, though you wonder how this will be accomplished when both are immensely appealing. The novel also briefly features Bess Crawford, a nurse who often finds herself investigating crimes in Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries. There aren’t any surprises here, but The Walnut Tree is a heart-warming romance, and a fun and entertaining way to snatch a few hours pleasure reading this holiday season. Recommended.