When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, 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 realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
- Title: The Ghost Tree
- Author: Christina Henry
- Cover Artist: Erin Fitzsimmons, design
- Publisher: Berkley
- ISBN: 0451492307
- Publication Date: September 8, 2020
- Content warnings: racism, including anti-Hispanic slurs
I’d like to thank Berkley for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Memory can be a cruel thing, but it’s also the only way to right the wrongs of the past and try to heal old wounds. A sprawling tale of murder, magic, and grief set in 1985, Christina Henry’s new horror novel The Ghost Tree exposes the greed, hate, and cowardice that lie at the heart of so many towns in America. It also holds out hope for a better future. The book tries to tie together several disparate storylines and themes, and though I’m not sure it all holds together in the end, it’s an intriguing look at the evil that lies underneath the surface of your average American town.
Smiths Hollow, a prosperous small town just outside of Chicago, is an odd place. There’s no crime there…except for the grisly murders of teen girls that seem to happen with troubling regularity. The townspeople don’t take much notice of the murders, though, and they keep going about their lives without any worries so long as the local economy stays good. Though the book is rarely overtly political, it certainly has a lot to say about how much people are willing to ignore in order to uphold the status quo (as long as the status quo benefits them personally, of course). It’s no coincidence that young women are deemed the most disposable, especially young “troublemakers” who do things like disagree with their parents or explore their sexuality.
The most pointed political statements usually regard the way that Officer Lopez, a Chicago transplant new to the Smiths Hollow police force, and his family are treated by a town that’s 95% white. At one point they’re even threatened by a group of “concerned citizens” wielding tiki torches, which of course immediately reminds the reader of the white nationalists who terrorized Charlottesville while holding the exact same symbol of suburban racism. It’s a calculated narrative choice that ties our current political climate in with the bigotry that the Lopez family face in 1985, which is inextricably linked with the town’s founding many generations ago. Smiths Hollow is not a place that looks kindly on “outsiders,” especially those that ask too many questions about the town’s bloody and brutal history.
It’s difficult to summarize the plot without giving too much away, because the story is an intricate and sometimes messy web of secrets and forgotten sins. It moves quickly, propelling the reader forward to find out what happens next despite the fact that there are few surprises to be found. The Ghost Tree is a tale of generational guilt, the evil effects of greed, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid grief or shame. It’s also an eerie and bloody story about mysterious killers and the secrets that you can never keep buried. While it’s an enjoyable read, it can’t quite reach the horrific heights it aims for or find a way to tie all its thematic interests together into a cohesive statement.
I give this book 3.5 out of 5 coffins.