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.
‘Hugely atmospheric, exquisitely written and utterly gripping.’ Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party
There are many things I could wax lyrical about Pine, but it would end up the length of an essay and so I am going to attempt to be a little more succinct.
It is without wishing to sound too much like a crazy fan girl, one of the best thrillers I have read in quite some time.
The power comes from the quiet moments in the story, all of which convey an overwhelming sense of unease, which starts almost from page one and remains a brooding and compelling presence throughout the novel. It managed to both scare me enough I wanted to look away, yet was so tender in its portrayal of Lauren and her father’s grief, over the mother that went missing ten years before, that I could not pull myself away from the pages. Their grief was like a low-lying fever that consumes them, yet in moments of blessed relief, allows them to function in some kind of silent nightmare. For Lauren that involves bullying at school, which had me aching to scream at her tormenter’s to leave her alone. While for her father, though he remains a part of the community, is also isolated by their suspicions and his own feelings of abandonment. Francine Pine manages with a deft hand, to make me as a reader care deeply about them both, yet never be able to really trust in their narrative of events. It made my unease while reading perversely delightful. It feels odd to say I enjoyed the feeling of being tormented by events, yet I cannot lie, I relished the sense claustrophobia and how I was consumed as much events as both these central characters.
The characterisation is stunning. From the main characters of Lauren and her father Niall, whose pain and torment shines off the page, to the plethora of supporting characters, some we get to know better than others. The writer has brought together a cast, all of whom play a symbolic part in the story, such sa Anne-Marie who besides seemingly being a victim of a haunted village, helps us to understand Lauren pain and the mystery around her mother’s disappearance. Everyone has an integral part in the story and Francine Toon uses each to deliver a forceful plot, to help us feel the full impact, the missing women has had on all their lives over the last ten years. Truly though it is Lauren and Niall who will haunt me, because the depiction of their grief is deep-seated and almost too painful to witness.
This is no run of the mill thriller. It is more than a story about a missing woman, a missing teenager! It takes this highly popular genre, injects a sense of gothic horror, for it is eerie, and yet manages to be a painful depiction of grief and loss.
It takes us to an isolated highland community, wraps us within its boundaries and makes us witness to events we cannot explain.
An utterly superb read that has haunted me from the moment I finished it.
My thanks to the author, publisher and blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.
You can purchase Line from Amazon
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. Follow her on Twitter @FrancineElena