Review: Far From The Tree

Rob Parker – Far From The Tree (Blog Tour)

Far From The Tree author Rob Parker

An Audible original, now published by Red Dog Press in ebook, hardback and paperback and available direct from their website: www.reddogpress.co.uk/. I received an ebook from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

First, the official blurb: Twenty-seven bodies, vacuum-packed, buried in a woodland trench – some have been there for years, some for just days. DI Foley finds himself the Senior Investigating Officer on one of the largest murder cases the country has ever seen. This could make his career. But as new discoveries unfold, this horrific gangland crime suddenly gets personal. Too personal. Foley has a choice. Solve the crime and risk his family? Or leave well alone? To a man like Brendan, that’s no choice at all…

Rob Parker’s debut novel came out in 2017, and since then he has barely paused for breath, racking up five in the Ben Bracken series plus two standalones; Far From The Tree is his seventh novel, and the start of a trilogy at that. But it’s easy to see why he has a growing legion of readers eager for his next offering.

On a chilly morning in woodland near Warrington, DI Brendan Foley and DS Iona Madison are at the scene where a mass grave containing 27 bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting has been uncovered after an anonymous tip. The pathologist believes the bodies have been buried over a period of around ten years, and that faces have been hacked off to make identification more difficult. All but one, that is: the most recent body is intact, and its identity floors Foley.

Sandwiched between the crime scene horrors and the unwrapping of the first bodies in the hospital mortuary is a glimpse of Foley’s personal life – today is his son’s christening, and the scenes of him with his wife, brother, and father are a sharp contrast to the violent death he now has to deal with, showing clearly the trials of life as a cop and the toll being involved in a major case has on their family.

Meanwhile, Madison looks to escape the horror and burn off the stress with a boxing workout. The basic gym in a former factory has led her to plenty of victories – she has a bout this week, and her thoughts about food which pop up at various points raise a much-needed smile. It’s interesting that Parker chose to give his own favoured sport, with its violence, danger and discipline, to a woman, albeit a cop; another sign that he’s not one for sticking to old templates of crime fiction. 

While Brendan is investigating, trying to control his emotions, brother Ross is all simmering rage and vengeance – and their father, Art, knows which son he agrees with. Art and Ross make plans of their own, setting up a painful family divide and a sharp contrast between doing things by the book and doing things outside the lines. 

As the pathologist works her way through the post-mortems, she discovers that while the obscuring of faces is a constant, the victims are all ages and both sexes, and that the method of dispatch varies wildly. There is no consistent signature or MO as would be expected with a serial killer. When a second victim is identified, the team shifts focus to an organised crime link, which makes things more difficult than ever for Brendan.

There is action aplenty as the team chase leads while more bodies are found, as someone looks to stamp their authority on Warrington in no uncertain terms, and it leads inexorably to a brutal, bloody, vitriolic ending with wild justice served more finally than any cops-and-court route can offer. This is shaping up to be an extraordinary trilogy.

A tip for new writers I’ve often heard is to read your novel aloud, to find out what doesn’t work in terms of rhythm and flow. Far From The Tree was an Audible original, designed from the outset to be listened to rather than read from a page, and it’s easy to see how much work Parker put into finessing the novel for that format in the way the eye glides effortlessly over sentences yet picking up every detail of dialogue, description and plot.

It’s a cliché that’s it’s grim up north, but Parker peels off the stereotype and gets to the heart of things. His plain language underlines the realities and mundanities, with the occasional poetic turn of phrase and flash of dark humour to remind us that even in dark times there is a glimmer of light. (I love the descriptions of Warrington Police Station being sited in a barely-converted former Victorian swimming pool.) And while the town will be unfamiliar to many readers, it’s good to see ignored areas brought into the spotlight: as Ted Lewis with Hull and Humberside in the 1970s, so writers like Park, AA Dhand (Bradford) and Marnie Riches (Manchester) are giving us a picture of places and their people from the inside.

In Far From The Tree there are dodgy dealings, stone-cold vicious gang bosses and a body count that would make a Taggart scriptwriter stand up and applaud with respect. And there’s heart, warmth and deftly created characters with real emotions. Police work, crime and boxing all need grit, determination and the ability to deal with pain. But while there is plenty of pain for the characters, for the reader there is only the pleasure of turning the pages of a fresh take on the police procedural from a voice embedded in his setting and a gift of sharing it with us. Rob Parker, a pint of Guinness is on me next time we’re in the same room – it’s the least I can do to say thanks for writing this novel.

Rob Parker is a married father of three, who lives in Warrington. The author of the Ben Bracken thrillers, Crook’s Hollow and the #1 Audible bestseller Far From The Tree, he enjoys a rural life, writing horrible things between school runs. Rob writes full time, attends various author events across the UK, and boxes regularly for charity. He spends a lot of time in schools across the north of England, encouraging literacy, story-telling and creative writing, and somehow squeezes in time to co-host the For Your Reconsideration film podcast, appear regularly on the Blood Brothers Crime Podcast, and be a member of the Northern Crime Syndicate group of authors.

You can follow Rob on Twitter here: @robparkerauthor
Find his website at: robparkerauthor.com/

Don’t forget to check out all the other reviews on the blog tour!

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