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The Memory of Trees by F.G. Cottam
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Severn House Publishers Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727883155
Date: 01 October 2013 List Price $28.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Facebook / Show Official Info /

Saul Abercrombie, a British self-made tycoon, is dying of throat cancer; his last wish is to replant the forest that once grew on his coastal estate in Pembrokeshire, Wales. He hires Tom Curtis, an arboreal specialist, to oversee the vast undertaking. Soon after his arrival at Pembrokeshire, Tom begins to learn the bloody legends of the land. He also learns dark secrets about his own ancestry. As the planting of the trees progresses, an ancient evil engulfs the estate, releasing hideous creatures that threaten to suck the life out of all who are laboring there.

Without trees, we would all die. They provide us with oxygen, food, shelter, etc. It is no wonder they play vital roles in folklore and mythology. F.G. Cottam's The Memory of Trees is steeped with supernatural phenomenon, primarily ghosts, demons, killer plants, and monsters. Celtic mythology is at the center of all this terror. Like the thorny branches of the Gibbet Mourning, the plot quickly snagged and pulled me into the book. Bizarre, gruesome deaths helped ensure a fast pacing. Overall, this highly creative, highly imaginative horror novel was quite enjoyable despite an ending that seemed rather rushed and anticlimactic.

The characterization is excellent. My most favorite character is the designated hero, the man with two first names, Tom Curtis. He is a likeable man who loves his partner, Sarah Bourne, and their seven-year-old daughter, Charlie. Unfortunately, a supernatural force lured him into a brief affair with a student, Isobel Jenks, for whom he really didn't care. Now, he has been forced to work for Saul Abercrombie, against his better judgment, because he feels he will need the money for legal fees in order to fight for visitation rights. Meanwhile, he keeps resisting the advances of a beautiful coworker, Dora Straub.

The novel's villain is an ancient, shape-shifting creature that is always in the guise of a female. Most of her victims know her as Amelia. The novel chronicles the history of her destructive influences on those who have attempted to settle at Pembrokeshire. She controls an army of monstrous, reptilian creatures that attack and devour. She draws energy from the trees. There are several other human villains in the novel. Abercrombie is one of them; he is determined to survive his cancer no matter how many others must die. His selfishness and all-consuming greed for wealth has destroyed his family.

Creepy and atmospheric, The Memory of Trees will haunt me for a long time. It has all the elements of modern Gothic horror. Pembrokeshire is a lonely, isolated heath that sits on steep cliffs high above a raging sea. There is a ruined, medieval church with stained glass windows depicting a knight holding the severed head of a reptilian creature; a sacrificial mound made of rocks; and an enormous thorn bush, Gibbet Mourning, that appears to have a mind of its own as it defends itself from those who wish it harm. At night, as the fog rolls in from the sea, those living in the Abercrombie mansion hear strange noises and see ghostly apparitions.

Fans of Gothic horror will want to devour F.G. Cottam's The Memory of Trees. Interestingly enough, the author plays tribute to Hammer Films which released many Gothic horror films in the late fifties to early seventies before it died. There is a scene in The Memory of Trees where several of the characters are watching a Hammer film, starring legendary actor Peter Cushing. (The name of the film is never provided.) In recent years, Hammer, like the vampires in many of its films, has risen from the dead and re-released such hits as Let Me In, The Woman in Black and The Resident. (Cottam wrote the movie tie-in for The Resident.) Thanks to The Memory of Trees, my interest in the Gothic horror novels has risen. I hope to read more of Cottam's future novels.

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