Broken Branches, by M. Jonathan Lee, is the story of a family inheritance which brings with it a curse. Ian Perkins, his wife Rachel and their young son Harry had a happy family life until they moved to Cobweb Cottage. Built in the nineteenth century, on land owned by the Perkins family, this remote property had been handed down from father to son for many generations. Ian was raised here but left when he was eighteen. As stipulated in the trust under which the land and cottage were held, his elder brother, Stuart, gained ownership when their father died. Several years later Stuart put a shotgun to his own head, blowing out his brains.
Now Ian and Rachel move through their days barely speaking. They are sleeping in separate rooms. Ian believes that if he can just get to the bottom of the family curse that he had heard spoken of, although never explained, when he was growing up then he can make sense of what has gone wrong with his marriage and rectify the situation. He spends his days sifting through old photographs and papers, researching his family history. Rachel, suffering miseries of her own, treats his efforts with contempt.
In the front garden of Cobweb Cottage is a huge sycamore tree with branches reaching out towards the house. The shadows it casts have always discomfited Ian. Soon it is not just the tree but also the house that is disturbing his mind. The more he finds out about his ancestry the more convinced he becomes that a curse exists.
The story is told along two timelines – the present day and Ian’s memories of growing up. By the time he left Cobweb Cottage he had developed resentments towards his father and brother which eventually led to him severing contact. Similar fallings out existed in the previous generation.
Many horror story tropes are employed in the telling of the tale, and acknowledged along the way. There are badly lit rooms in a creaking old house where shadows move and things go bump in the night. Items are displaced with no explanation. Icy draughts accompany ghostly sightings which Ian is unsure if real or a dream.
Although the author conjures the requisite tension, and I was intrigued by what the details of the curse may be, I found the obsession of the protagonist difficult to engage with. His belief in a curse seemed at odds with the other sides of his personality. The final reveals made sense of what had gone before leaving enough space for a degree of chilling uncertainty. This brought to mind the endings of several horror films.
And this story could be developed into a deliciously unsettling film. The soundtrack may even be provided – the mentions of the music played on vinyl during Ian’s research went over my head but may be better appreciated by a more knowledgable listener.
A tale then that intrigued even if it didn’t fully draw me in. Read it, but perhaps not alone after dark.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hideaway Fall.