Desert Isle Keeper
Doing No Harm
Carla Kelly is an auto-buy author for me. She reminds me a little bit of a modern day Jane Austen but with a tad more bite; sweet but with a dose of pepper. I am not sure there is even a mediocre book among her backlist much less a poor one. Her latest novel is another winner and I am sure Kelly fans will not be disappointed. This fan certainly was not.
Captain Douglas Bowden is selling out of the British Royal Navy at the end of the war against Napoleon. He is thirty-seven years old and has known practically nothing but the swaying of a ship for twenty-odd years. While the Navy wants him to stay on as a naval surgeon, Douglas just wants a quiet home somewhere where he cannot see or smell the sea, and can make a decent living practicing surgery. As he sets out to find a home, he heads north and eventually finds himself in Scotland. Inland stops along the way convince Douglas that he does indeed need the sea close by and when the coach stops in a small coastal town it serves only to strengthen that conviction. With the coach come barely to a stop for a quick bite and to refresh the horses, Douglas is met with the sight of a small boy with a broken and bleeding leg. What is a surgeon to do? Why, stay and assist of course.
The small town of Edgar has a tea room run by Miss Olive Grant, and it is to this establishment that Douglas brings the injured child. Olive is the daughter of the deceased rector of Edgar and Miss Grant’s Tea Room serves as a kind of hub for the downtrodden community. The war has taken Edgar’s once thriving ship-building industry and moved it to a different location, and the Highland Clearances impacted the town as well as the native highlanders who were thrown out of their homes and dumped along the coastline. Edgar has its share of highlanders who have not been integrated into the community and are slowly starving to death. Olive is using her meager inheritance to help where she can.
With the sound of cannon fire still ringing in his ears and the memories of all the men he could not save from war haunting his dreams, Douglas is suffering. His decades of war, blood and gore have made him older than his years and all he wants is to live out his life with some degree of calm and quiet. Because of his profession, he cannot get rid of the blood, but perhaps he can find the calm and quiet. Douglas is just an exquisite character. Suffering from PTSD, he means to soldier on but he cannot always control his flashbacks. He is outwardly stoic, but inwardly suffering to such a degree it is hard to understand how he makes it through each day. There is such a sense of vulnerability that the reader wants to help him recover. It is no wonder that Olive Grant wants to as well. The slow building of their friendship and then relationship is both poignant and entirely believable. Slowly but surely, Douglas becomes a part of the community, and though he is determined to find his quiet little home, Edgar doesn’t want to let him go. You see Edgar is suffering from a type of PTSD itself and needs the healing hands and heart of a surgeon.
Kelly does an excellent job of showing the aftermath of war and the devastation of the Highland Clearances, which was a war within itself. It is against this backdrop that the love story of Douglas and Olive is allowed to bloom. Both are filled with a sense of duty; Olive from her rector father and Douglas from serving his country. Both are somewhat overwhelmed by where their duties have taken them and we see these shared traits give both of them hope for a future. Olive and Douglas are intricately drawn and sympathetic characters. I love that Carla Kelly creates heroes and heroines from everyday people just trying to get through life as best they can and turns them into memorable characters. Doing No Harm is another DIK in a long list of them.