Koehler Books (2021)
Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Reader Views (3/2021)
“Deciduous,” by Michael Devendorf, is a compelling thriller pulsing with mystery and suspense. Sienna is a forest conservationist who has lost her daughter Kira, and now her son Kai, both under tragic circumstances. To make matters worse, she was the only other person present at the time. She is thrown into a state of grief and heartache, and fears she is losing her mind to the overwhelming loss. To hold on to her memories and her sanity, she climbs into the treehouse where Kai passed away. As she uses meditation to bond with him, her thoughts are invaded by frightening visions of a “mother tree,” a kind of tree Sienna researched in a nearby field close to their lake house. These dark images tarnish the memories of Kira and Kai. This tree, once nurturing and powerful, now threatens her with its skeletal-shaped limbs and hand-like leaves. Sienna’s thoughts culminate in doubt and fear, and she is sure that the deaths of her children are her fault, not accidental. Others actually believe that her consuming guilt must mean she is responsible for their deaths, even though she is unable to remember it. Driven to uncover the truth suppressed in her subconscious, Sienna is herself in danger as the hidden is revealed.
Devendorf delivers this heart-pounding story with a terror and grace found in classic suspense novels. This book begins with loss and grief, so trigger warnings apply, but the author’s talent for character, emotions, and mood weaves these painful emotions into a dark tale with some surprising light when all is said and done. Sienna is a well-drawn character. You feel for her from the very beginning, and you wish like @!%!# that she hadn’t lost two children, but that’s what makes this book and this writer so good. He isn’t afraid to go there, do that, and build an emotion-entangled story that hurts you, frightens you, and entertains you.
Sometimes, to get the best story, you have to plunge into the dark parts you’d rather not think about, and Devendorf does it well–with respect, and measure. I like the unique plot, and the mysterious elements to the story. From the first frantic scene to the final pages, you will be caught up in this drama and will never quite know what could happen next. The unpredictability is appealing. Sienna’s husband Jordan is also dynamic. The conflict builds to a crescendo, and the secret revealed is a shocker you won’t see coming.
The last quarter of the book is my favorite, and the ending is one of the best I’ve read in recent years. “Deciduous,” by Michael Devendorf, is a masterful blend of pathos and suspense verging on horror. Not to be missed.