Reviewed by Jan Peregrine
by M Jonathan Lee
Paperback: 304 pages, July 27, 2017, ISBN-13: 978-0995492332
I love me a good psychological thriller and that’s what we get with Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee, with a little visual horror thrown in. When it opens up we are treated to several pages introducing us to the malignant presence of a towering sycamore tree with bony branches scratching the farmhouse’s roof, walls and windows like a demon’s fingers. Immediately we realize that a sense of evil pervades the lives of its overwhelmed, married couple.
At first I assumed that there was something supernatural about the tree. Lee described it with a chilling intensity, as if it controlled the lives of the Perkins’ family for more than one hundred years. The current male Perkins living in the old farmhouse believed in the family curse. What family curse? Is the tree supposed to be cursing them then? It sounded like that to me!
Mostly the book tells us the story from the man’s perspective with a third-person omniscient narrator, but sometimes we’re allowed to know the sullen wife’s perspective. I couldn’t figure out if she was suffering from mental illness, like depression, or coming down with a terrible physical illness. To be honest I felt a little irritated with her because her frustrated husband did.
Once Lee startled me by revealing the perspective of the man’s older brother and wife, which seemed quite unnecessary to me. This didn’t move the story along. My sympathies were mostly with the man. Chapters switched from his frantic present where his wife avoided talking to him or doing anything with him to his memories of his childhood. He was trying to understand the family curse his father had told him and his brother about. He really didn’t learn anything from those miserable memories, except how confusing his life was then and now was again. How he’d never fit in, never been loved and accepted like his brother was. The man was easy to sympathize with.
Gradually I began to wonder if he was at fault for the marital tension. He desperately sought an answer to the family curse in old diaries, documents, newspaper clippings, and photos. This made him feel hope that, once solved, the curse would lift and bring his happy married life back. I suspected him to be at fault when he became paranoid that his wife was sabotaging his work in his study and when he started seeing and hearing things that disappeared or went silent when he turned on the light or became distracted. I still wasn’t getting the whole picture, but his wife was becoming more sympathetic.
The ending stunned me as the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle flew together and it made perfect sense. I wondered why I had not realized it before. Perhaps my heart was overriding my logic…
Lee writes with British terminology, which isn’t new to me. I’ve heard of ‘loo’ before, but ‘windscreen’ and ‘duvet’ kind of threw me a little. One term baffled me, though, and I didn’t take the time to find a dictionary. It’s the extraordinary term ‘fabric plasters.’ Now I know the British call Band-aids that!
Broken Branches was a satisfyingly creepy thriller that I was loath to put down. It had plenty of tragedy up ’til to the end, but ended on a hopeful note.
About the reviewer: Jan Peregrine has tried her hand at self-publishing and has about seven she recommends on Amazon or Audible. She has a new audiobook on audible.com, Dr. Freudine Is In: The Drama Deepens. Reviewers may ask for promo codes.