When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in her hometown, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids. So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realises that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the centre. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
I absolutely loved the premise of The Ghost Tree and the blurb totally does this great creepy read justice. I’ve read much of Christina Henry’s other works and I often wondered what would happen if she gave herself the freedom to write a unique story outside of the confines of an established fairytale – given this books substantial heft in comparison to her other books, it’s clear that she loved this freedom. Set in small town in 1980’s America there’s a lot of nostalgia and also gives it the monster of the week style edge akin to many films and TV shows of the time. Lauren is an instantly likeable character, her relationship with Miranda will strike a chord with many readers no doubt, the depiction of a friendship coming unravelled through a coming of age viewpoint was really well written and I really felt for the girls. The horror aspects were incredibly tropey but that I think must have been design to really pull into the nostalgia as they all fitted perfectly. The woods and the visions from within reminded me instantly of Pans Labyrinth, they were deliciously creepy. I enjoyed the exploration into how being in the town impacted upon it’s residents both old and new, in many ways the town was as much a character as everyone else.
Despite the slower pace which comes with the small town backdrop and the lack of technology to speed things along, this was a book that I struggled to put down, a beauty of a slow burn, and as the impact on the town as a whole is explored more deeply, the horror element starts to seep in. The inclusion of the towns own fairytale was an inspired touch. I found this I really compelling read and I think that’s mainly down to the high degree of detail with both the world building and the characters. Recognisable imagery from cans of Tab (I really miss that drink) and neon clothing complete the package. The woods themselves were wonderfully created, I felt anxious every time Lauren or anyone went near them, the ominous Ghost tree rising up above the rest of the forest as an overbearing force watching over the town. There is a lot of gore as you would expect from a grizzly scene and nothing less than you would expect from Christina Henry, it’s shockingly striking and because of the attention to detail images are quickly seared in the mind.
My only issue with the book was how quickly the ending was wrapped up, as I was going along noting fewer and fewer pages left I found myself wondering if it was a first book as there would be no way it could all be concluded with the space left. Sadly it was and for me it felt like the payoff for all the great groundwork had been short changed. I mean its all there, just not as I would have expected given what had come before.
All in all though this is a fantastic read and probably my most favourite of Henry’s so far. It’s a perfect read for the lead up to Halloween and I’m very grateful to Titan books for sending me a copy for review.