Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)
February 27, 2016
Terri Arthur brings Edith Cavell back to life in her compelling and generally well-written historical novel, Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell, WWI Nurse, published by HenschelHaus Publishing Inc. The book is variously categorized as biography & memoir and literature & fiction, which reflects the depth of research and verifiable facts that laid the foundation for the fictionalized biography. In reading it, I was reminded of the “biographies” I adored – and devoured – from the shelves of my elementary school’s library, though this was certainly written for adult readers rather than fourth-graders who never wondered how the author “knew” exactly what all those historical figures said and thought, especially long before anyone would have cared to preserve those conversations and thoughts for posterity. In the same way, Arthur has imagined and described events and scenes that were never recorded while fleshing out the historical novel with facts that were noted and recorded – and does it so well that the reader is tempted to believe she must have been a fly upon the walls of the nursing schools at which Cavell learned, taught and eventually established in Belgium prior to the outbreak of World War I and from which she nursed both German and Allied soldiers during the war until her arrest by the German Army occupying Belgium. The result is a truly compelling read, larded with photographs and photocopies (as well as a detailed bibliography) that form the novel’s foundation and tell the terrible story of a dedicated nurse who was executed after a trial at which her lawyer was never told the charges against her, nor allowed to interview or meet her, or prepare any sort of defense beforehand, and in spite of the fact that the charge on which she was convicted did not warrant the death penalty. I knew something of Miss Cavell’s story – essentially, that the cold-blooded execution of the nurse who not only tended wounded German soldiers but also helped Belgian, English and French heal and escape from what had been a neutral country after a charade of a trial had turned her into a martyr for the Allies. The bullets that brought down her body also helped bring the U.S. out of its isolationism and into the war, while inspiring thousands of her countrymen to enlist and join the fight against the barbaric foe who had executed her. I learned a great deal more, from her trials as a student nurse to her trials in establishing a school of nursing in Belgium, where nurses were held in low esteem – and did little to earn any higher. I was so caught up in this one that I refused to budge. Long before I came to the end, I felt that I had been well rewarded for my perseverance . . . and I think the majority of readers will, too.
Manhattan Beach, CA