Title: The Memory Tree
Author: Jennifer Scoullar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Saga
Playing God is a dangerous game.
When forest protests engulf a tiny Tasmanian timber town, one family’s century of secrets threatens to destroy a marriage ‒ and bring down a government.
Matt Abbott, head ranger at beautiful Binburra National Park, is a man with something to hide. He confides his secret to nobody, not even his wife Penny. The deception gnaws away at their marriage.
Matt’s father, timber and mining magnate Fraser Abbott, stands for everything Matt hates. Son disappoints father, father disappoints son – this is their well-worn template. But Fraser seems suddenly determined to repair the rift between them at any cost, and Matt will discover that secrets run in the family. When Sarah, a visiting Californian geneticist, tries to steal Matt’s heart, the scene is set for a deadly betrayal.
The Memory Tree is a haunting story of family relationships, the unbreakable ties we all have to the past and the redemptive power of love.
Matt spun the wheel hard, navigating another hair-raising bend in the narrow gravel road. He glanced at the clock on the dash. Midnight. His wife called it the witching hour ‒ a time of ghosts and magic. He wasn’t superstitious like Penny, but tonight, hemmed in by the dark forest, he could almost believe it. Matt stifled a yawn and turned on the radio. Music would help him stay awake. He’d been up since dawn.
What was that? Something swift crossed the corner of his vision and Matt slammed on the brakes. They gave a tortured squeal, but it was too late. He felt the sickening thud of metal on flesh. Matt cursed and stopped the car. Nothing showed in the headlights. No trace of the shadow that had raced across the road.
Shoulders hunched against the cold, Matt walked back along the corrugated track. The fog was a night shroud swallowing the torchlight. There – sprawled on the rutted roadside. He knelt down and felt its warmth, felt the final fragile flutters of life until the animal was beyond fear or care. It lay quite still now in the torchlight. Blood oozed from its mouth and nose, and moon shadows striped its coat.
Matt could barely breathe. This couldn’t be. He shook his head, hot tears flowing as the impossible became reality. A dog? No ‒ a phantom.
Penny brushed her long copper-coloured hair, and tugged it back into a practical ponytail. She buttoned her shirt, squeezed into jeans, frowning as she struggled to zip them.
‘I’m starting a diet today,’ she said, as usual.
‘Don’t,’ said Matt, as always. ‘You’re perfect the way you are.’
Penny made a face and left the room. He found everything about her irresistible. Her ripe figure, her serious smile, her freckled dimples and clear blue eyes. But Penny couldn’t take a compliment. She never believed him and he didn’t know why. After all, he was no oil painting ‒ tall and fit, for sure, but with an ugly hawkish nose like his father. It made him look arrogant.
Matt showered, thinking a little about the day ahead and a lot about the night before. He arched his neck and turned up the heat, let the water pummel his shoulders, knock some sense into him. Matt hated secrets, but he couldn’t tell Penny what had happened. It was beyond him.
He found Penny in the kitchen.
‘You’d better boil the kettle again,’ she said, before disappearing into the lounge room with a brush-tailed possum curled around her neck like a stole. ‘Can you muster the pademelons for me?’ Penny asked when she came back in. ‘We’re weighing their joeys this afternoon.’
‘Sorry,’ said Matt. ‘I promised Bernie to fly the falcons.’ He combed his dark hair with his fingers. The purple bottlebrush outside the window quivered with honeyeaters. The sun shone. A spider wove its web across the sill. How could everything look so normal when nothing was?
‘Dr Deville’s coming this morning,’ said Penny. ‘Don’t you want to meet her?’
Matt put the kettle back on the gas. ‘It can wait.’
Penny nursed her mug and watched him. ‘You didn’t sleep much last night.’
That was an understatement. He’d lain restless in the dark, reliving each detail of his heartbreaking accident in the park. Reliving the shock, the amazement ‒ the dreadful guilt and grief. Willing himself to wake from this living nightmare. As head ranger at Binburra National Park he’d pledged to protect it from harm. Instead he’d caused the greatest harm possible. He’d killed a Tasmanian Tiger ‒ an animal believed extinct for almost a hundred years.
The kettle screamed. Matt caught the edge of his hand on the scalding jet of steam and barely felt it. Penny’s questioning eyes bored into him and he tried changing the subject. ‘You’re running an information session this morning, right? What’s this one about?’
Penny didn’t answer. Then Matt remembered and wished he’d never asked. The Devil Roadkill Count was Penny’s pet project. Binburra was at the forefront of conserving Tasmanian Devils. As scavengers, they were particularly vulnerable to being killed by cars. Matt had hit one himself last year ‒ one of Penny’s painstakingly hand-reared orphans. Released with radio collars and a great deal of hope, many perished on the roads within months. ‘How could you be so careless?’ she’d asked him. How indeed.
Matt kissed his wife and escaped to the verandah.
Their modest house was perched halfway up the hill above Binburra Wildlife Park’s home compound. Covering several hectares, it stretched out before him under a sky of brilliant blue. The buildings and enclosures were designed to blend seamlessly with the native trees and gardens, providing as natural an environment as possible for their residents. The main focus of the park was the breeding and conservation of Tasmanian devils, but Binburra also housed a wide variety of rescued birds and animals. Some would be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. For those too badly injured to fend for themselves, Binburra provided a permanent home.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Universal link: https://books2read.com/TheMemoryTree
November is a time to be thankful. What are you most thankful for this year?
I’m most thankful for my happy, healthy family and the privilege of being able to write stories for a living.
Why is your featured book worth snuggling up to?
What could be better on a cold, wintry evening than to snuggle up with tales from warm, faraway lands? The Memory Tree is a thoughtful story of a marriage on the brink, and of the strange, almost mythical animals of far-flung Tasmania. A must read.
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Runs November 1 – 30.
Drawing will be held on December 1.
Jennifer Scoullar writes page-turning fiction about the land, people and wildlife that she loves. She has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Jennifer lives with her family in on a beautiful farm in the mountains that was left to her by her father. Horses have always been her passion. Read her books now to discover why Jennifer Scoullar is one of Australia’s favourite storytellers!
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