Friday, April 26, 2024

Book Review: The Hanging Tree

Title: The Hanging Tree

Author: Joseph J. Dowling

Date: 2023

Publisher: Littlest Hobo

ISBN: 978-1-7394035-2-2

Quote: "We've got three bodies. Hope you haven't eaten breakfast yet."

If this tale of gory horror has any redeeming social value, it's to help readers feel sorry for police detectives. What Detectives Staley and Cornell see is enough to drive Staley insane. Watching Staley's mind go is what does it for Cornell.

In real life, homicide-suicides may babble about some person or persons "making" them do what they do, or about philosophical, political, or religious motives, or (more often) about revenge for what they claim has been done to them, but (unlike ordinary murderers) they nearly always act under the influence of certain kinds of drugs. Some of those drugs happen to have become popular psychiatric medications since the 1980s. 

In this piece of fiction, they're acting under the influence of an evil spirit that seems to present itself in relation to a woman hanged for witchcraft by men the spirit seems to have possessed first. Local history reveals that people who lived in Cooper House, or Cooper Hall (US house names aren't officially registered, so informants differ), came to gruesome ends. The story opens with Staley and Cornell finding a man who's cut up and mutilated his wife and children, then himself. He finishes killing himself in the hospital. But this time, it seems, the spirit can't wait for the house to be resold. Staley dreams about killing his wife and child, wakes up sleepwalking toward their bedrooms, and finally starts cutting them up, but Cornell finds them in time that their lives may be saved. To him it seems that the oak tree near the house, on which the accused witch was hanged, is the creepiest thing at the house.

Cornell's family have separated from him, on friendly terms. He knows where they live. He starts dreaming about killing them. He goes out to Cooper House to saw down the tree. But, if the tree embodies a demon that powerful, will it let him saw it down? On what terms, if it does?

This one is strictly a test of toughness for people who've led short, sheltered lives. If reality has given you better tests, and you've passed, why bother. If you feel a need for works of fiction that don't even try for terror or horror but are primarily about the gross-out, this fictional bloodbath may appeal to you. I think horror fiction should lay its ghosts to rest, but some serious fans of the genre don't agree.

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