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 spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.
Pine is the story of Niall and his daughter Lauren, aged 10, and her mother Christine who disappeared shortly after Lauren was born. Niall never talks about what happened, lives in chaos and drinks constantly to blank out the memories.
But this book is far more than just a mystery or the story of a missing person. It’s really about life in a remote Highlands village where strange things happen, superstition is rife and people believe in all kinds of supernatural goings on.
Christine came to the village from Edinburgh and was not easily accepted by some of the villagers. She was even regarded as being a witch. What with the rumours, Niall’s behaviour and leaving Lauren often unwashed and wearing second-hand clothes, she is a target for the school bullies such as horrible Maisie. Only Billy is Lauren’s true friend.
Some of the villagers try to look out for her, but Niall is too proud to accept help. Actually I really disliked him – I don’t care how upset he still is after the disappearance of his true love – he hardly seems to care for his daughter, often leaving her ‘home alone’ with no heating or decent food.
It’s beautifully written, poetic, dark and atmospheric and when Ann-Marie goes missing it reaches a whole new level of darkness. I still cannot decide whether to leave four or five stars on Amazon/Goodreads because at times very little happens to move the story forward, style leads over substance and the ending, as others have pointed out, feels a bit rushed. But all in all I really enjoyed it and there’s no denying it is a stunning book.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.
About 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.