Dead Branches: Benjamin Langley
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Once again, big thanks to Pete from Bloodshot Books for sending this one my way. I was keen on this one straight from the amazing, yet simple cover artwork.
The story is a heartbreaking look at loss, while living under a hard-nosed father, in a small town. Interestingly, at one point, I was so convinced on what I believed was a reveal about halfway through that I messaged a friend and complained about it, only to find out I was completely wrong.
What I liked: This is a coming-of-age story that follows a young boy who dreams of making it big as a soccer player. He has his friends, his dog, his brother and in the back area of their farm, a tree. The tree itself haunts him day and night and he believes it is possessed. When his best friend, John, goes missing, he presumes the tree played a role in it and as him and his friends try to get to the bottom of what happened to John, we see how grief makes people see with clouded eyes.
I really enjoyed the friendship between the young characters and I loved the relationship that was presented between the grandfather and the kids. I also enjoyed the time jumps between the present and when the events were happening. It worked really well to see how moments from the past shape the adults we grow up to be.
What I didn’t like: I found there were some parts that could have been tightened up when it came to them watching soccer. It became a distraction when we’d come across a few pages of specific game descriptions. I understand how invested the boys were in the England team and their hopes of winning the World Cup, but it really slowed the narrative.
Why you should buy it: Sucker for coming-of-age? Enjoy a creepy fable that seems to grab and hold a character and make them react in ways that ultimately create chaos for those closest to them? Then ‘Dead Branches‘ is a must-read for you. And I’m glad my initial misgivings or ‘jumping to conclusions’ was completely incorrect. The ending of this one was superb.
When Thomas Tilbrook receives a letter telling him that his estranged father is dying, he realises it’s finally time to go back to the Cambridgeshire Fens. But going back evokes memories of the last time he saw his father—memories that he can’t entirely trust.
Thomas remembers the summer of 1990 like it was yesterday: long hot days in the sun, watching the World Cup on TV… and his best friend John going missing.
He remembers how the silence of the adults had forced him to investigate what had happened to John with his brother and cousins. After all, who knew the hidden pathways and secrets of a village better than they did? Could it have been the local bogeyman Shaky Jake? Could one of the creatures on his deck of horror cards have been responsible? Could it be the dead tree with the sinister smile that watched him from a nearby field?
…or could the truth be closer to home and far worse than he could ever possibly have imagined?
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction.
Steve is the author of three novels, a number of novellas and four collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
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