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 seem to be on a run of unsettling, beautifully written novels at the moment, Pine is incredibly moving, intensely unnerving and genuinely absorbing from first page to last.
The edgy, offbeat prose really digs deep, it is a disjointed, haunting tale that is at turns terrifying and heart wrenching. Lauren sits at the centre of a maelstrom of adult emotion, her connection to her missing mother tennous and spiritual – meanwhile danger lurks in the forest surrounding her while her father falls apart and the community grows stranger and more off kilter by the moment.
The setting is both beautiful and relentlessly claustrophobic, the author paints pictures with words and leaves the reader unbalanced yet fully immersed, it is a peculiar talent that held me in its thrall the entirety of the read.
The ending when it arrives is pitch perfect and emotionally raw – Francine Toon has managed to write a genre crossing novel with wonderfully gothic undertones, written in a freshly observant way and I loved every minute of it. Even as it gave me strange surreal dreams that I didn’t manage to throw off for hours I was still desperate to pick it up again at every given opportunity.
Brilliant. Different. Highly Recommended.