Monday, August 30, 2010

The Crying Tree

Surviving the death of a child involves perhaps the worst kind of emotional pain and grief one will ever be required to endure. And, although it is truly horrible to lose a child through illness or accident, having a child murdered has to be the worst thing parents can imagine for their children. This is exactly what Deputy Sheriff Nate Stanley and his wife Irene suddenly face when their only son is shot during what appears to be a home burglary gone very wrong.

Only eighteen months earlier, one of the reasons Nate Stanley moved his family from their home in Illinois to a remote little town in Oregon was because he thought it would be a positive change for his young son. Irene initially had misgivings about leaving the only home any of them had ever known, but her religious faith made it easier for her to acquiesce to her husband’s decision to accept a new law enforcement position in the little Oregon town. Now their son is dead – and the family is struggling to hold itself together even long enough to see the boy who killed him convicted of the crime.

Nineteen years later, Irene Stanley, having returned to Illinois with her husband and daughter, receives the letter she had long dreamed of receiving, the one announcing an execution date for her son’s killer. In just three weeks, Daniel Robbin, now 38, is to be put to death for murdering 15-year-old Shep Stanley all those years ago. Irene has just one problem: she has long since forgiven Robbin and she does not want the state of Oregon to execute him. But what can she do about it now, with only three weeks to spare?

Naseem Rakha tells much of the Stanley family story by alternating present-day-chapters with chapters set around the time of the murder. This device gives the reader a clear picture of what the family has gone through for almost two decades while, at the same time, it exposes the emotional impact of the pending execution on the prison warden in charge of ensuring that everything goes exactly by-the-book. Tension builds relentlessly for everyone involved as the execution date nears and Irene begins to understand exactly what happened in her house the day Shep was shot and killed there.

The Crying Tree is filled with sympathetic characters, all used to good effect by Rakha to explore both sides of the death penalty debate. While it is true that the most sympathetic of Rakha’s characters are trying to stop Daniel Robbin’s execution, I doubt that many readers favoring the death penalty will have their minds changed by the novel. Actually, I do not believe that is what the author was trying to accomplish anyway. Above all, The Crying Tree is a novel about the power of forgiveness to heal unimaginable wounds when nothing else will do the trick. Irene Stanley’s willingness to forgive her son’s killer saved her life - and ultimately saved what was left of her family. That is its real message.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I've had this book on my to-be-read list for a while now. Went to a reading/talk the author gave at my local library a few months back. She was very inspiring. Now... must go get my hands on a copy!

  2. It's an interesting book, Valerie, and has a little bit of a surprise at the end that I hadn't considered as a possibility at all.

  3. After reading your review I will definitely be adding this one to my list to read in the future. I always wonder about families (in real life) who face these sorts of things and how they cope years after the fact.

  4. I've seen what happens to parents who have a child murdered, Kathleen, and it is a horrible thing to see. There is so little that anyone can do to ease their pain; words are never enough. No parent comes out whole after experiencing something like this.