Today I’m on the blog tour for Pine by Francine Toon with my review. Many thanks to Anne Cater for my invite onto the tour and my review copy of the book.
What’s this book about?
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.
What did I think?
Pine truly is a remarkable debut. I was actually taken aback by just how good it was and it certainly exceeded my expectations. It read like a gothic ghost story with an ethereal atmosphere that immediately transported me back to the Scotland of my childhood. Lauren was a strange child, oblivious to the adult world around her but strangely drawn to the world of Tarot cards as she looks for answers to the mystery of her mothers disappearance. Her relationship with her father is a difficult one due to his own struggle to come to terms with being on his own with a child young to bring up. I often wanted to shake some sense into him so that he would give more of himself to this strange and lonely little girl.
Pine has a beautifully written uniqueness about it that is almost poetic in its descriptions of the world that Lauren lives in. The Highland forest became claustrophobic and almost magical as its dark and mysterious setting wrapped itself around this small village mentality and I instantly felt a shiver run down my spine when another girl went missing. The last few pages led to a perfectly pitched denouement that felt satisfying and true to the narrative. This is no ordinary mystery and the way in which it developed became as important to me as finding out the truth about what had happened to Christine in the past and Anne Marie in the present day.
Pine is a remarkable achievement as a debut novel and I will look forward to more from Francine Toon in the future.
Who is the author?
Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.