Carla Kelly’s new novel, Doing No Harm, is set for a November release. It is based on a cruel act of genocide called “the Highland Clearance” which started in 1792 and lasted a little over a hundred years. In the high mountain glens of Scotland once lived a smattering of Gaelic people who raised cattle on small bits of land. They were mostly uneducated and were at the mercy of landlords. By the nineteenth century most of their tiny parcels of land were owned by the Countess of Sutherland, wife of England’s richest man.
She believed she could make more money from sheep than cattle and ordered all of the tenants off her land. Other landowners did the same. Making no provision for the people, they sent soldiers to empty the cottages, kill or sell the cattle, and burn the structures. People who refused to leave their homes or who were too feeble to leave were burned along with the cottages. Many of the people were forced onto overcrowded ships, which capsized or they were left in small villages in the lowlands where they were unwanted and didn’t speak the same language. The fortunate ones made their way to America or Canada.
Captain Douglas Bowden, ship surgeon is burned out, exhausted, and ready to leave the Navy after 25 years and is glad the Napoleonic Wars have finally come to an end. He just wants to find a quiet village where he can rest and be a simple village doctor. He arrives in the small village of Edgar where a shipload of the unfortunate Highlanders have been dumped and is startled by a nine months pregnant woman carrying a bleeding child running in front of the coach he is riding in. He leaps out of the coach, uses his cravat for a tourniquet, and carries the child to a nearby tea house run by Miss Olive Grant to suture the wound and splint the badly broken leg.
Bowden has no intention of staying in the village, but as a physician, he feels his oath requires him to stay until the child recovers. One thing leads to another, one child is born, another dies, the highlanders are starving, a woman’s fused fingers need to be separated. A little girl’s kitten needs to be saved almost as much as the child herself. Accidents and illnesses keep him tied to the village, or is it Miss Olive Grant that makes leaving hard? She’s kind and good and loving and he hasn’t had much of that for a long time.
Though this story takes place during the regency period, it’s not a regency but an historical with a hint of low key romance. Mostly it’s a story of discovering what matters most, of people coming together to care for each other, and the ability to change and forgive. The characters are real, flaws and all. They make mistakes; they harbor impulses that are less than kind, but they also have a remarkable ability to grow, become better, and change for the better. The reader is enriched by sharing these characters’ emotions.
Kelly is that rare writer who is able to portray violence, terrible events, and base actions in a way that leaves no question what is happening, but in an inoffensive way minus vulgarity or explicit language. She also describes positive events and experiences in a way that touches the heart.
The author has written so often of rural England and Scotland during the early nineteenth century it appears in her writing as a firsthand description. It’s easy to believe she has been there and seen the water, the people, and the villages herself.
This isn’t an easy book to put down. It’s plotted well and the story is compelling. It’s liberally sprinkled with insights into human thoughts and actions readers will remember for a long time to come.
Carla Kelly is a prolific author who publishes with several different publishing companies and in several genres. She has embraced a wide variety of life experiences from working as a ranger in the National Park Service, a newspaper writer, a historical researcher, a hospital/hospice PR writer, to an adjunct university professor. Her interest in the Napoleonic Wars sparked her interest in Regency novels. She is intrigued by military history and by the settlement of the American West. In recent years she has written novels focused on Mormon history and the mining industry. She has received numerous prestigious writing awards. She and her husband presently live in Idaho. They are the parents of five children and several much-loved grandchildren.
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DOING NO HARM by Carla Kelly, published by Sweetwater Books an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 308 pages, mass market paperback $8.99.