The poignant odyssey of a tenacious young girl who braves the dangers of the Texas frontier to avenge her mother’s death
Early one morning in the remote hill country of Texas, a panther savagely attacks a family of homesteaders, mauling a young girl named Samantha and killing her mother, a former slave, whose final act is to save her daughter's life. Samantha and her half-brother, Benjamin, survive, but she is left traumatised, her face horribly scarred.
Narrated in Benjamin's beguilingly plainspoken voice, The Which Way Tree is the story of Samantha's unshakeable resolve to stalk and kill the infamous panther, rumored across the Rio Grande to be a demon, and avenge her mother's death. In their quest she and Benjamin, now orphaned, enlist a charismatic Tejano outlaw and a haunted, compassionate preacher with an ageing but relentless tracking dog. As the members of this unlikely posse hunt the panther, they are in turn pursued by a hapless but sadistic Confederate soldier with troubled family ties to the preacher and a score to settle.
In the tradition of the great pursuit narratives, The Which Way Tree is a breathtaking saga of one steadfast girl’s revenge against an implacable and unknowable beast. Yet with the comedic undertones of Benjamin's storytelling, it is also a timeless tale full of warmth and humour, and a testament to the enduring love that carries a sister and brother through a perilous adventure that takes on the dimensions of a legend.
‘‘Preacher Dob said, Vengeance belongs to the Lord, Samantha. She said, Only if he can beat me to it.’ This told me everything I needed to know about Samantha Shreve, a character who knocked my socks off from her first appearance on the page. This book is the stuff of legends, tales told for a hundred years around Texas campfires. Written in a form that is historically accurate and yet feels painstakingly intimate, The Which Way Tree is unlike anything I’ve read before.’
Attica Locke, author of Bluebird, Bluebird
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‘Elizabeth Crook has created a book of marvels. Its comedy is steeped in the hardscrabble tragedies of a wilder old America. You will even catch an echo of Twain’s wit in the picaresque narration.’
Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the US national bestseller The Hummingbird’s Daughter
‘A small-scale masterwork, richly detailed and beautifully rendered.’
S. C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Empire of the Summer Moon
‘Not since True Grit have I read a novel as charming, exciting, suspenseful, and pitch-perfect as The Which Way Tree. Elizabeth Crook’s new book is winning from first page to last.’
Ron Hansen, author of The Kid and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
‘When I began to read this book its unique voice appealed to me immediately. Elizabeth Crook has written a beautiful novel with wonderful characters.’
‘In The Which Way Tree, Elizabeth Crook has conjured a powerful, sly, and often charming tale delivered in the winning voice of Benjamin. This novel is a fast-paced story resonating with rich characters and mythic elements that come to us as folklore that mustn't be doubted.’
Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone and The Maid's Version
‘This is a story of unremitting deprivation allayed by unexpected kindness, with a dangerous chase motivated by love and suffused with humanity.’
'Poignant and plainspoken … Crook crafts Benjamin's narration beautifully, finding a winning balance between naiveté and wisdom, thoughtfulness and grit.
'Readers new to the Western genre will be hooked if they start with this compelling novel.'
‘tterly convincing, consistent and believable … The Which Way Tree is a commendable and very readable addition to the tale-spinning tradition and its beautiful use of language.’
The New York Times