Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Pine. I’m sharing an extract with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and the publisher for providing the extract.
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.
They are driving out for guising when they see her. It is the narrow part of the road that cuts through the hem of the forest. Some firs arch so densely here, they block the night sky.
Lauren sits high in the passenger seat, her elasticated gym shoes swinging over cans of Kick and a chewed-up tennis ball. She has braided her hair and wears it in a circle like a garland. Niall, her father, is steering their dented pickup and listening to Aerosmith. It smells of dog fur even though Jameson isn’t in the truck.
‘Is that lipstick?’ her father asks.
‘No, it’s face paint,’ Lauren says, lying. It is the one time of year she can wear something of her mother’s. It feels precious. Clandestine.
She holds a pumpkin-shaped bucket on her knees. Her face is powdered white except for the deep red trickle at the corner of her mouth. There is no reason it can’t be face paint. Her dress is black with a cream lace collar. They bought it for her grandmother’s funeral eleven months ago, when she was nine and a half. Her arms stick out of their sleeves, reminding her that next year the dress might be too small. Her father says next year maybe they’ll stop. But for now, she is a vampire. She likes this outfit and because they live in a tiny village, no one can tease her, unlike at school. In her pocket, there’s a piece of antler that folds out into a knife.
The headlights cast two white beams into the black. Up ahead there is a kink in the single-track lane, a passing place, its diamond sign growing luminous as they approach. Lauren sees a skinny figure standing in the scrub of the verge, enveloped in a large white dressing gown.
‘Jesus,’ her father says as they bump past.
‘Who’s that?’ Lauren cranes back at the dark road. The trees are thinning out.
‘Who’s what,’ replies her father and turns up the music.
Lauren puts her hand in the dress pocket and runs a finger across the ridged antler, then along the metal strip that is the edge of the blade. She has been doing this recently. Soon they break out of the forest altogether and speed down the hill to Clavanmore: four houses dotted along the road; a constellation of lights among the dark fields. Niall parks near her friend Billy
Matheson’s house, at the disused phone box. Its bare bulb is still working, illuminating one corner of the pavement. Weeds are growing through the cracked tarmac and up under the glass. Lauren watches the wing mirror for several minutes, until she sees the small figure of Billy and his frost-coloured shorts. His mother Kirsty and little brother Lewis follow behind, walking downhill from their home along the narrow edge of the road.
Pine is available from Amazon.
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