Book Review: The Killing Tree

To the residents and fellow deacons of Crooked Top Mountain, Mercy Heron’s grandfather is viewed as something of a martyr. After all, everyone knows his wife Rutha is crazy and he was generous enough to raise Mercy after his daughter died in childbirth in the back yard. Just out of high school with no prospects of going to collage or leaving the isolated backwater community, Mercy did her best to stay out of Father Heron’s way.

Father Heron was domineering, opinionated and cold hearted, thus Mercy knew little about the circumstances of her birth beyond the fact that her mother died under the twisted old apple tree after he locked her out. Determined to see Mercy safely tucked away in matrimony, Father Heron pushes her to accept Rusty, owner of the local diner as a suitor even as Mercy is pursuing a relationship with Trout, a migrant mater picker. Through Trout, Mercy begins to see a world of possibilities beyond the narrow confines of Crooked Mountain. What Mercy hadn’t counted on was getting pregnant, left on her own to face Father Heron and discovering a long buried secret that revealed just how cold-blooded he could be.

Keener’s surprisingly good debut novel does an excellent job of creating the general feel of helplessness and depression that frequently haunt inhabitants of isolated Appalachia communities. The storyline is augmented by strong character development, particularly the very eccentric and charming Rutha. Mercy’s strength as she copes with the challenges of simply getting through another day and trying to do what is right rings through with a triumphant note.

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