They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.
Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she's gone.
In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren's mother a decade ago.
Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father's turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it's no longer clear who she can trust.
In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.
I was so so excited to read this when I first heard of it towards the end of the summer. It sounded right up my street and I knew reading it at winter in front of the fire would be ideal! In short, I did enjoy the book for its writing and the characters but I did find the actual plot and ending a serious let down, hence why I knocked it down to 7. I didn't want t go below that because the writing and descriptions were so good and I loved some of the characters.
Toon immerses the reader in the highlands of Scotland from page 1. The writing is beautifully atmospheric and I could so clearly picture the pine forests, snow covered mountains and the small village. I adore Scotland, it reminds me so much of home (Ireland) but the landscape is even more dramatic and impressive. The descriptions of the surroundings, to the village, to the homes of the characters are so vivid and I was completely invested in this world and couldn't wait to see what Toon had in store for us. With these fantastic descriptions also came this eerie sense of mystery and secrecy. The whole story seemed to evolve around this community of people that had long lost stories and secrets that they didn't want to see the light and I become completely obsessed with trying to uncover what these secrets were. It was the first book in a long time that actually managed to get the hairs to stand up on my neck at certain points.
Then of course, the characters are excellent. You could very quickly tell that Toon was a gifted writer and this comes through so clearly when you get to know the characters. They each had their own distinctive personalities and you wanted to find out more about each of them as you could tell that everyone had a secret to hide.
The book was a nice nod to a forgotten time of magic and superstition. Ireland and Scotland have so many similarities and this is one of them. The power of magic, folklore, legend and myth goes back a millennia. I loved reading stories of the mythical creatures and lands that once ruled across Ireland and Scotland and I found the nod to these things in this story really comforting.
So, you're probably wondering why I didn't give this a 10/10 based on the above. The reason being that the ending was just...meh...I honestly had to sit back and then reread the final chapter because I wasn't totally sure I understood what happened. It just felt like the whole book was building up to this big reveal but nothing actually happened...I just felt very let down by it and though it lost its magic as a result.
Anyway, it's a fantastic debut and if you love descriptive and slightly creepy books then it's definitely worth a read. I can't wait to see what Toon comes up with next.
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
'Whenever Lauren feels scared in the dark, she lets it wrap around her, opening up her other senses until she becomes part of it, moving as silently as she can.'
Christine, she sounded so interesting and I really wanted her story to be bigger. I find people who believe in old folklore and have certain superstitions so interesting to talk to and it reminds you of a forgotten time.