Flashback Friday: The Hanging Tree

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

The Hanging Tree by David Lambkin

(published 1995)

From Publishers Weekly:

Magic and science, past and present, collide in Lambkin’s fast-paced thriller, which was a bestseller in South Africa. Kathryn Widd, a paleontologist specializing in violence, goes to Kenya to examine an ancient skull and gets involved in a mystery surrounding a death that occurred on a 1908 expedition, led by John Henry Patterson, to the same locale. From her office in present-day Johannesburg, she recounts the tale of her expedition in a foreboding tone. Accompanied by researcher Ray Chinta, museum administrator Victor Macmillan and his beautiful and enigmatic wife, Marion, Widd makes historic discoveries among the fossils that lend disturbing insight into the origins of human violence. But as the expedition continues, the party begins to relive events that occurred during the ill-fated Patterson expedition. Soon, they find their research straying from the exactitude of science into the realm of magic and mysticism. Looking for metaphysical heft, Lambkin juxtaposes scientific theory with black magic, quantum physics and Bach and uses the metaphor of a fugue to add layers of depth. He falls short of illuminating the implied connections among his many competing themes, and his characterizations rarely rise above stereotype. He does, however, deliver a page-turning puzzler filled with suspense and a richly evoked sense of the African landscape.

I first heard of The Hanging Tree one day while driving home from work listening to NPR. The brief review made this book sound like one not to be missed — but going the way things often do, it was several years before I finally came across a copy and remembered hearing about it.

The Hanging Tree is a fascinating but not always smooth read. The writing style took some getting used to, and the storyline was not really what I’d expected. That said, I couldn’t pull myself away. As the book progresses, we follow the story of a modern-day archaeological dig as well as an earlier expedition — but ultimately the story encompasses new discoveries going back to the earliest humans and what this knowledge proves or disproves about us as a species.

Overall, I’d say that The Hanging Tree is an unusual but engrossing reading experience, and while I didn’t always love the narrative voice, by the end I was completely caught up in the story and its shocking developments and outcomes.


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

4 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: The Hanging Tree

  1. I love evolutionary stuff…I had a secret desire to be an archaeologist/paleontologist when I was younger that lies latent until books like this come along!!
    Thanks for the recommendation Lisa.

  2. That cover looks positively creepy! lol. But the premise sounds interesting–and pretty funny but before I checked out your post, I did mine up and I also featured a novel this week with archaeology involved! *high fives*

    Hope you have a lovely weekend Lisa 🙂

    • Hurray for archaeology in fiction! It was actually a challenge to find this cover image — this is what the book looked like when I read it, but I think the editions currently available are different. Most of what I saw were more generic desert/landscape images — and I really liked the creepy tree!

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