On Christmas Eve, six year-old Tom McRae witnessed an unspeakable atrocity that left him orphaned, his childhood in tatters. Now in his mid-thirties, Tom still has terrifying nightmares of that night. When Tom is sent to the remote Scottish village of Douglass to negotiate a land grab for his employer it seems like a golden opportunity for him to start over. But Tom can’t help feeling he’s been to Douglass before, and the terrible dreams from his childhood have begun to spill over into his waking life. As murderous events unfold and Tom’s feverish nightmares escalate, he will discover the hideous truth behind the villagers’ strange pagan ritual of The Jack in the Green.
Frazer Lee is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker whose debut novel The Lamplighters was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist. His film credits include the acclaimed feature film Panic Button. Frazer resides with his family in Buckinghamshire, just across the cemetery from the real-life Hammer House of Horror.
Mild-mannered Tom McRae keeps having the same night terrors over and over. He keeps reliving that horrific morning when he was six and his parents were brutally murdered. His wife isn't able to provide any relief. She's trying to recover from her own nightmare of having a miscarriage and is in a semi-catatonic state from all of the meds she's on. Tom's boss sends him to Scotland to secure a large tract of land to be used in extracting biofuels. The small village of Douglass isn't too keen on the idea of someone coming in and hacking down all of their trees. They still cling to pagan rituals and celebrate their holidays, such as Samhain. On top of that, a group of hippy protestors also have a beef with the whole thing. Last, but certainly not least, Tom is stuck with his overbearing and obnoxious co-worker, Dieter along for the ride. Tom's nightmares begin to spill over into his time in Douglass when he's not sleeping and he begins to question his sanity. Is Douglass more than it appears or is Tom losing his mind?
Frazer Lee slowly unravels this tale with a sophisticated voice and a nice vocabulary. Tom seems like a sad sack that you can't quite put your finger on whats going on. This was turning out to be a solid 4-star read before it ground to a halt towards the end and then the "tie-it-all-together" ending felt too rushed to me. Almost as if the story ran out and there wasn't a better way to explain things, so lets just throw all our cards down and show you our hand. Or, I wonder if this story suffered from the dreaded editors knife in an attempt to keep it under so many words for the publisher. This dropped it down to a 3 1/2 stars for me. Other than that, Lee can write his ass off. I have no doubt I'll be reading much more from the Brit. Theres a reason he was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. In The Jack in the Green, you can see why.
3 1/2 Jack and Jills out of 5
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Gruesome horror of the classic bent--wrapped in millennia-old paganism, Nature "red in tooth and claw," (as Wordsworth depicted), unfolding characters, raw terror, mix into one exciting, adventurous, tale. Deciding who was "right" vs. "wrong" was difficult, because even the bad ones had backdrops and rationales that could elicit some sympathy. Then, too, is the implacability of the terrifying, mostly unglimpsed, eponymous Jack in the Green, he of legend--and fact.
Tom McRae is a man who is definitely down on his luck. His marriage is crumbling around him, he is plagued by nightmares from his childhood after witnessing a brutal attack that left him orphaned and is content with avoiding the spotlight in his mundane office job for The Consortium Inc. However, one day he is finally called into his boss Mathers' office. Tom is perplexed because no one gets a glimpse of Mathers' office, The Chairman of Consortium is an elusive man who always making address via the Internet and is hardly in the office. When he gets there, he is immediately aware of why he was chosen. Mathers has a special assignment for Tom. His name implies a Scottish ancestry and Mathers wants him to use that to his advantage and weave himself into the fabric of the small Scottish village of Douglass in order to negotiate a land purchase for the company's biofuels division. Mathers believes Tom's name and ability to assess risks make him a secret weapon in their attempt to make money. When he goes to meet with Monroe from the legal department, who already visited Douglass, he is shocked to hear a crash and witnesses Monroe's body sprawled on the lower floor. As he attempts to comfort Monroe, the lawyer offers an ominous warning - "He's in the trees...he's...waiting...."
Tom is tasked with heading to Douglass with his co-worker Dieter, a man he cannot stand, serving as his driver. The trip starts off with a protest in which their car is surrounded and it takes an act of desperation to escape unscathed. Once Tom and Dieter arrive in Douglass, they check in to The Firs, the only lodge that is still open in the secluded village. Holly, an employee at The Firs, introduces Tom to the legend that seemingly drives the town of Douglass. She takes him to a secluded clearing where he witnesses two giant firs joined at the root that are dubbed by residents as the "Jack Tree and Jill Tree" tree. She details the folklore behind the tree and explains that this weekend is Sow-when, a holiday that is ingrained in the fabric of Douglass and brings the seemingly sleepy village to life. Residents set up booths to sell homemade food and decorate their homes with pumpkins, squashes and scarecrows of all different designs. Even though it breathes life into the town, you get a sense of unease that something dangerous is lurking beneath the surface.
Tom slowly seems to become a part of the Douglass community, but a series of hair-raising events and his recurring nightmares put his standing within the community in jeopardy and nothing in Douglass is quite what it seems.
The characterization in The Jack in the Green is excellent and Lee's portrayal of Tom creates an intriguing main character that is more complex than he seems on first glance. While he is a man who seems to be plagued by fear and indifference, Tom occasionally exhibits an inner strength. Throughout his interaction with stakeholders in Douglass, such as Lithgoe, he exhibits a tenacity for striking deals and mitigating risks that is a stark contrast to how he handles his personal life. Then there is the mysterious hermit of Douglass, Cosmo. Cosmo is an interesting character, an ex-military man who has taken up residence in a ramshackle cabin located among the village's famed fir trees and attempts to atone for the atrocities he has committed. I don't know if it is intentional, but it seems like Lee is laying the foundation for an underlying mythology that weaves its way into each novel's DNA. The secretive, multi-national corporation known as The Consortium makes an appearance in The Jack in the Green and many readers will remember the company from Lee's debut The Lamplighters. Whether it is intentional or purely a coincidence, I still thought it was an interesting story element as some of the events regarding the corporation raise some interesting questions.
I was once again impressed with Lee's cinematic approach to storytelling, which manages to transport the reader into the world he has created. That is the strength of Lee's attention to building up the setting in his novels. He takes idyllic locations - like the lavish luxury of Meditrine Island in The Lamplighters or the lush forests of Douglass, Scotland in this novel - and manages to warp them with terrifying evil. However, despite the sinister nature that lurks in each of these locales, you can't help but feel captivated by their portrayal.
I have enjoyed all of Lee's work, but The Jack in the Green is by far my favorite! Lee strikes the perfect balance between the psychological horror that plays out as Tom's nightmares seem to bleed into reality and vicious violence and gore. Lee only doles out the gore when necessary and it serves as a jolt to the nervous system. Much like The Lamplighters, he lures you in with an atmospheric setting and keeps the reader guessing on where the events are headed. All along I thought I knew where the story was going, but once again Lee incorporates an abrupt twist that changes everything I thought I knew about the novel. Some readers may feel the twist comes out of nowhere, but once everything is revealed, it actually makes a lot of sense. Honestly, I was kicking myself for not figuring it out sooner! The Jack in the Green has supernatural undertones, but the horror comes from the real world evils and depravity that bubble to the surface toward the novel's conclusion.
If you are a fan of a good psychological horror novel and don't mind a little gore, The Jack in the Green is a novel you will definitely want to add to your collection!
It's back to Britain and the old ways in Frazer Lee's second novel (2013, Samhain), a romp of a book that combines pagan mythology with visceral contemporary action. Thanks to a new government at 10 Downing Street, an American corporation is allowed to chew a small portion of Scotland into biofuels. It may be a touchy subject for the locals, though, so the corporate overlords dispatch a yank named Tom together with his co-worker Dieter to prepare the way.
It gets Northern Exposure-y very quickly. The residents of Douglass (the home of the "Douglass fir") are a moody, surly bunch, except for Holly, the winsome wench of the local tavern, who introduces Tom to ancient forest groves and other pleasures of Scotland. But there's of course a dark side to the place, there always is; the previous company man sent to the area plunged to his death, his final words a warning about someone waiting in the trees. Soon enough Tom's assignment spirals out of control and he, too, will meet good old Jack.
The novel's first half, as Tom is introduced to Scotland, is full of atmospheric goodness, the writing solid in an Adam Nevill kind of way. The characters are well developed throughout; one high point is the boisterous, German-born Dieter, who provides a nice foil for the somewhat more serious Tom. Tom's mellowing attitude towards Dieter is a nice progression for the character, but not the only one.
Other major players include Jupiter Crash, an environmental activist, who tangles with Tom and Dieter early on in the novel; Holly and her husband, Tommy, are a fine pair with domestic problems; and there's the canny old local laird, who Tom visits in a fine sequence. All could've perhaps played bigger parts in the novel's final outcome, but it's all about Tom in the end.
There's a twist and a reveal, some retconning, and a lot of gory action besides; much of it may seem slightly too convoluted if taken at face value and not, for example, as a sign of Tom's mind coming unhinged. But it's a minor grumble – the finale is a rush of action that takes only a few pages, and despite its implausibility, it's still all good fun. The rest is, however, even better, with firm storytelling and interesting characters. And those are, after all, the things that truly count.
(No trees were harmed in the reading and reviewing of this book.)
When I first read the title for THE JACK IN THE GREEN, I did a double-take; it didn’t roll off my tongue correctly and my mind interpreted it as ‘the jacked-in green’. Obviously, that threw me for a loop, but I recovered quickly and launched into the book with fervor. While this is not one of my favorite Samhain titles, it is a solid book with an intriguing storyline and vivid characters.
I really enjoy horror novels that are set in other countries. I suppose this is because I love to travel, and I’ve only had the opportunity to venture out-of-country once in my lifetime. When novelists write stories set in other lands, they usually do a good job of bringing the culture and heritage of these places to life on the page. As a result, this helps to slake my thirst for adventure.
THE JACK IN THE GREEN is written well and the prose stands out for its simplicity. Author Frazer Lee does a great job of letting the story tell itself, however I feel like some of the descriptions were overly-done and could have been toned down a bit. This is a minor complaint, but one I feel worth mentioning.
The characterizations in the book are excellent. Tom McRae is a damaged yet likable soul, which allows the reader to actually care about what happens to him. But although damaged, he is still a strong lead and therefore entertaining. I particularly like the villagers as well; they are a diverse but believable bunch and helped to set a nice small-town feel for the locale.
My primary issue with THE JACK IN THE GREEN is the ending. There is a twist that happens late in the book that is supposed to surprise and shock, however it doesn’t work for me for some reason. I think maybe it’s too outlandish for my tastes. I will not divulge any specifics so as not to ruin the surprise, but I have to admit that it feels like a twist put in just for the sake of having one.
Still, THE JACK IN THE GREEN is a great read and definitely worth checking out. And, who knows? Maybe I’m way off on the twist. You should read this one and get back to me to let me know what you think. Maybe, for once in my life, I’m actually wrong.
THE JACK IN THE GREEN is available now in a variety of formats.
A captivating read that weaves a spell, leading you into the Scottish countryside to a village that isn't all that it seems. The shocking ending makes this one of the most satisfying reads of the year. Frazer Lee scores again, big time.