The good thing about writing reviews is it pushes you to read books you might not otherwise choose; it challenges you to step out of your comfortable reading zone and dip your toe into foreign genres. Focusing on a small, rundown American town, Chris Whitaker’s debut isn’t the style of book I’d typically choose, but sometimes, stepping out of that comfort zone works in your favour, as in the case of Gone Girl, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Sadly, it wasn’t the same with Tall Oaks.
The story starts when Jess’s young son, Harry, goes missing. Jess has recently split up with her husband and it could be that he has taken Harry but there are a few other shady characters in town that all look like the perfect suspect. Jim, the local policeman, is called in to investigate and finds himself utterly lost, trying to find a balance between doing the right thing, finding Harry before it’s too late and keeping his own feelings under control whilst he considers every option available.
Tall Oaks isn’t a bad book at all, especially for a debut author, but for me it lacked conviction. All the way through I felt it was missing authenticity. I found the dialogue laboured; it went on for pages and didn’t move the plot along. Sometimes the character descriptions felt like they were plucked from random movies and they were, with a couple of exceptions, all very depressing and downbeat. The chapter separations didn’t help either as they all focussed on random characters and scenes, leaving the whole thing feeling erratic and patchy.
However, it did have elements of good, dealing with difficult issues like mental health, bereavement and how to cope when a child goes missing. Personally I didn’t feel it explored them deeply enough, leaving the characters feeling one dimensional, which kind of did those characters and the personal turmoil they each faced a disservice. Having said all of the above, I have to admit that the ending did come as a genuine shock and surprise, so full marks to the Chris Whitaker for that.
Tall Oaks is published by Twenty7 on 8 September 2016.