Newly-wed Patricia Sheridan moves into her new home in the village of Lightwood, she has no idea of the horror that awaits. Outside the house stands an old tree, said to be the burial site of a child-killing witch. In more recent times, however, it was the site of the death of a young man, strangled to death – in the snow with only his own footprints leading to the tree itself.
While Patricia becomes obsessed with the diary of the young man’s fiancée Lavinia, it seems that there are present day horrors as well. Young children are being found with their throats cut – but with a surprising lack of blood in the vicinity. Is there a vampire active in the area? And is it actually a tree? Or something…
Actually, the Vampire Tree bit is a translation issue – the actual French title was L’arbre aux doigts tordus – The Tree With Twisted Branches. But the title isn’t the issue here.
Paul Halter is one of the most inconsistent authors that I review. Some of his books are works of genius – The Demon Of Dartmoor or Death Invites You for example – and some of them have been disappointing. This one, though, is off the scale – but in the wrong direction.
I’m not going to bang on about this for too long, but:
- The central characters are cardboard cut-outs at best. Patricia has issues – she has occasional blackouts/occasional mood swings/frequent mood swings (it seems to change at different points in the book) with a reason that is later revealed, but the notion that she thinks she might be a vampire never seems to make sense. That idea has been done much better elsewhere.
- The impossible crimes are weak. The death at the tree has a very disappointing resolution – it’s even worse that the standard death in the snow solution – and I’m not even convinced that the vanishing blood is supposed to be an impossibility.
- The motive simply doesn’t work. I can see where the author is going with this as a study of insanity, but it just feels so artificial. The killer is obvious from early on, the fake suspects being utterly unconvincing, but the murderer’s scheme is utterly ridiculous. And why does nobody seem particularly worried that someone is slaughtering children, even to extent of letting some of them go to the funfair alone?
- Alan Twist just feels shoe-horned into this story. It’s a bit like shoving Poirot into something like Endless Night. The story is going for an emotional dark tone which doesn’t feel as if it’s part of a series and it’s not as if Twist really achieves anything here…
So, a massive understatement – I bought this as soon as it came out but I think I’ll wait for the reviews before buying the next one. When Halter’s good, he’s very good, but this one is Not Recommended.