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ARC review: Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

BBranches

Author: M. Jonathan Lee

Pages: 294

Edition: Paperback

Publication date: 27th July 2017

Read: 12th June – 15th June 2017

Rating: 3-stars

TWs: Abuse and PTSD.

*Thanks to the publishers, Hideaway Fall, for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

Goodreads synopsis

‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

Review

Broken Branches is a story of two halves; a tale of a young boy’s happy childhood before disaster, and his search as an adult to uncover the mystery surrounding his family home.

Both parts of the novel are narrated in alternating chapters, flitting between present and past. As the two timelines progress we begin to understand more of Ian’s character and his life as a child. Scenes of idyllic afternoons spent in warm fields near the family’s cottage are offset by an undercurrent of menace. From the outset, readers are told that something dark happened to this family during Ian’s childhood, and the sensation of waiting for something unspeakable to happen leaves us often on edge, and constantly second-guessing whether a small action could have cataclysmic consequences.

The dual narrative works well to gradually fill in the gaps in our knowledge and uncover the mystery piece by piece, but the writing style itself is relatively simple. At times this simplicity is underwhelming, but occasionally it works brilliantly to drop shocking twists into the plot with an understated calm.

In Ian, we see a prime of unreliable narrator; at the beginning of the novel, we trust him implicitly, we’re given no reason not to and his thoughts seem logical. But as the mystery becomes clear we begin to question his motives, memory, and bias.  There are times when, while being narrated from Ian’s perspective, we question whether events are really happening. In the opening chapters for example, his implications about his wife lead readers to mistrust her, but by the end of the story we believe her perspective more than his. Time too, seems to unwind and lose form when we’re seeing events through Ian’s eyes, and as events turn creepy and sinister, the fractures in his outer calm show.

The characters are realistic with their frequent arguments and disagreements, and in each one we see a different type of human fallacy. Some are bitter, some are angry, some are grieving, but while they represented an array of emotions and intentions, they weren’t always exciting or captivating. But since the novel is plot-driven, rather than character-driven, it’s less of a cardinal sin. Especially when the plot races through turns and twists every couple of chapters, building suspense and drama. The pacing isn’t always consistent, but the more intense chapters make up for slower ones, and the flashbacks to Ian’s childhood provide some of the most engaging scenes.

Broken Branches manages to be not just a mystery, but also a thriller and a horror, with elements of all three genres woven seamlessly into the plot. As with any good mystery, it offers an auspicious climax and riveting twist in the final chapters which certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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