An avid book nerd, Jennifer Branton loves to share her favorite book finds with her readers.
Her Dead Hand
Slipping from the railing as the boat approached, Rachel Cooper was suddenly in the water, trapped between boats staring up at the black waters overhead, begins The Hollow Tree by James Brogden. Her arm crushed between the two vessels, Rachel doesn't realize the extent of her injury until she gets back onto the boat and notices the dead weight pulling at her arm while hangs limply like butchered meat smeared on the sides of the two boats.
Doctors at a nearby hospital save her life, but not her hand leading Rachel to learn to cope with rehabilitation and use of a prosthetic. While her body grows stronger, her mind begins to waver as strange dreams about a woman trapped inside a tree are calling out to her.
No stranger to the local lore of Oak Mary, the resident specter of recreational area, the story of the body of a woman found stuffed into a tree trunk suggests the woman might have been a Nazi spy, a prostitute that was murdered by a John on the hilltop, or even a vengeful gypsy witch that cursed the land upon her death. Local graffiti asks "Who danced with Oak Mary?"
The remains of the woman dated back to at least the 1940's, a time when so many people were relocated and missing due to the war, it was never found exact who the woman was, and the legend of Mary stuck.
Rachel continues to dream of the woman, her hand that is no longer attached seems to still have sensations, and she finds after touching objects like flowers and leaves she can cause the death of plants. She takes her nephew away from a family party to see a house that was under demolition where a mummified cat had been found in the walls, only to be able to have the cat cross back over after her touch. Rachel possesses the ability to reach until the Umbra and pull dead things out with her, and the dreams of the woman- each time cast as a different situation; the cheating gypsy wife, the hooker, and spy- all wanting Rachel to come and save them from the tree.
Rachel finally comes and reaches into the trunk with her missing hand, knowing that the flesh that has died and crossed over is what bridges her connection to the dead realm. She feels a warm hand on her arm and a tug, she begins to freak out and reconsider her plan when the hand more urgently pulls at her.
Rachel finds herself with Mary of the Oak tree.
Dumping Ground For A Woman Scorned
Mary doesn't remember who she is, and is taken to a hospital- even though Rachel knows that she is a dead thing. The woman known a Mary is even shortly institutionalized as they have no leads on her identity and Rachel can not tell them she pulled the ghost from another realm.
Author James Brogden, wisely plays up all three narratives to who the woman known as Mary might actually be, as the gypsy woman Annabel was murdered by her husband after being caught having an affair with a solider, the spy Eline, murdered by two that had suspected her secret agenda, and the prostitute that lectured her gentleman caller about being too rough and had killed her. All three woman ended up inside the tree trunk, the same scenario repeating at different times.
The story differs though with Annabel who's mother knew of the death after her husband returned home and covered her body up first in the woods. Summoning a lesh- or wood spirit that would take care of both Annabel's spirit and curb its rage and her son in law- both were taken down into the pit of the tree.
The lesh has others inside, the woman murdered, as well as the men that had been guilty of the killing and is collecting souls. It even wants back the cat that Rachel has brought back from the realm of the dead.
Somehow the women killed all fuse into the one entity that is sometimes Mary, other times distinctively one of the other personalities, but it is when Mary finds out who she really was and the who the bones in the tree actually belong to, it does leave the question of was the death of the gypsy first and that was what was calling for this area to be the place to murder young women?
How did the unconnected death of this woman that happened to be killed at the spot connect back to Rachel?
It turns out that the man that Rachel believed to be her grandfather her whole life was not, instead a neighborhood boy that her great grandmother was babysitting for and when the mother never returned home one night, rather than trouble the police or search for any other family as they believed the woman, Beatrice to be single and hiding the birth of the child, they took in Stephen as their own.
Bea was killed while on a date and when the man was told she had a child out of wedlock he killed her for being "tainted" and she beaten and forced inside the tree as she slowly died thinking of her son and what would become of him.
Bea is actually the Oak Mary, and the other women that found abuse and murder in the same spot over the years, merged with this spirit of Air and Darkness to create what Rachel has allowed to cross over.
Bella In The Wych Elm
Based on a real cold case in 1944, The Hollow Tree plays with the folk lore and scenarios of three identities for the unclaimed remains of the woman found in the tree trunk. Graffiti seen on Wikipedia of the actual obelisk in the park area, such as in the book reads "Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?" putting a possible name on the victim, although no woman named Bella was found to be missing that fit that description.
The body, uncovered by children that were looking for birds nests, uncovered the skull sticking out of the tree trunk and alerted the police.
It was also believed as similar to the book, that either the woman was still alive or "still warm" when placed inside as the body was pliable to shape around the inside of the tree as it decayed.
As in the novel as well, someone did come forward claiming it was their husband that was haunted by the murder he took part in, but there was no actual proof as the murderer had already passed away at the time of the confession was taken to the police.
Who Bella really was remains a mystery and it was great to see so much of The Hollow Tree paying homage to the case- even with its dedication to Bella herself.