The Hollow Tree brings some very British creepiness for American readers


James Brogden’s The Hollow Tree is almost more suited for October rather than the start of spring because it has British creepiness in spades.

Don’t let the somewhat stereotypical cover to The Hollow Tree fool you. No, not even the definitely silly sounding “Who danced with Mary before she died?” When Titan Books sent me this book for review consideration, I was prepared to find it taking itself too seriously.

However, though it does take itself seriously, there’s just enough subtle humor to make this a properly chilling horror story. After losing her hand in an accident, Rachel finds that she has a special connection to a shadowy world — and accidentally pulls a murder victim turned urban legend back into our world. However, things like that always come with a price. Rachel and Mary’s case is no different.

The Hollow Tree‘s greatest strength is its willingness to play with the concept of myth. Stories change in the telling, and Mary, specifically, has three different stories that could or could not be what really happened to her. Some novels would likely just pick one and run with it, but Brogden weaves this mix of stories into his mythology. It almost makes things formulaic — and indeed, Brogden tries to lull you into that sense of complacency — but he twists things just enough to keep it interesting in the back half of the plot.

Fortunately, there’s solid worldbuilding accompanying this myth. Readers discover Rachel’s gifts at the same pace she does. Admittedly, that’s rather slow at the start. However, her power operates logically and consistently within its framework. It seems like such a small thing, but we’ve all encountered books that suddenly bring in new abilities out of nowhere.

Rachel doesn’t suffer nobly after the loss of her hand, either. That ends up actually working in her favor as a character. She’s not a perfect person; Brogden instead makes her relatable and even handles the idea of potential children between her and her husband fairly well. She has no connection to the supernatural prior to her loss, so she reacts generally as you would expect.

Her supporting cast, however, doesn’t lag behind. Her husband, Tom, ends up playing a major part in the story despite not really understanding what’s going on. And, of course, the Marys have their distinct personalities.

Ultimately, if this book has a true weakness, it’s the slow start. It gives Brogden time to build the suspense and mystery up, as well as leave clues for later. However, it takes just a bit too long to do so, and this book hits nearly 500 pages as a result.

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Still, whether you need to put your Halloween reading list together seven months early, or aren’t ready to let the chills go as spring struggles to arrive, then The Hollow Tree has a lot to offer.