The Jack in the Green by Frazer Lee

Jack_in_the_GreenIt’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.)

**** (4/5)

Available now from Samhain in print and as an ebook. Visit the author’s site.