James Hart, with a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside, does not want to go home.
Yet when James receives a postcard from his mother, Birdie Mae, informing him of his father’s death, he bites the bullet and returns to the rural and stagnant town of Crystal Springs, Florida, a place where dreams are born to die. James is too late for Orville’s funeral, but just in time to become ensnared in the deadly repercussions of his younger brother Rabbit’s life of petty crime.
When Rabbit is double crossed by his cousin in a robbery-turned-murder, James and a local bartender, the unsettling and alluring Marlena Bell, must come up with a plan to save Rabbit’s skin. A whirlwind road trip across the desolate Florida panhandle ensues as James tries to stay one step ahead of the vengeful Alligator Mafia and keep his brother alive. With bullets in the air and the ghosts of heartache, betrayal and unspeakable rage haunting him at every turn, James must decide just how much he is willing to risk to protect his family and find a way home.
With A Tree Born Crooked, Steph Post takes us into the grimy rural underbelly of the American south, where alcohol and drugs rub shoulders with poverty and neglect, and communities are bound together by apathy rather than any shared goodwill. At the heart of the story is James, a rough diamond and former petty criminal driven to return to his hometown of Crystal Springs by his father’s death. He arrives to find the funeral has already taken place and a family ambivalent to his presence. When his brother takes part in a botched robbery, James finds himself drawn back into a world he had thought he’d left behind as he tries to save his brother from the consequences of his own stupidity.
The book has been classified by some as country-noir, a label that suits it well. In it, Post has combined the dark, nihilistic worldview of the classic noir novel and placed it in a world of dirt, grit and dust. None of the characters, with the exception of Marlena, a particularly appealing but there is a sense of dignity as they struggle to overcome the hand that fate – in the case of James – and idiocy – in the case of Rabbit – has dealt them.
Post clearly knows her setting well and while she is unflinching in her portrayal of an area and people living on the edge of society, it is done without judgement and often affection. The book is well written throughout and Post has a great eye for small detail that lets you know exactly where you are at any time without flooding the page with unnecessarily detailed description.
This is a gripping read and a great insight into a world most of us are unaware even exists. With each twist and turn I found myself both rooting for and frustrated by the protagonists in equal measure as they attempt to escape from the predicament they’re in. My only disappointment is that the tone of the last chapter felt out of kilter to the rest of the book, far too positive considering everything the characters had been through. That said, it was the only false step in an otherwise excellent book and a testament to the strength of Post’s writing and characterisation that I felt I knew them well enough to have this issue. Highly Recommended.
To buy A Tree Born Crooked from Amazon.co.uk click here
To buy A Tree Born Crooked from Amazon.com click here
Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.