Benjamin Shreve is just a little boy when he sees his sister maimed and his stepmother killed by a very large, very vicious panther.
Set in Texas during the Civil War, The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook is a Texas-sized tall tale of revenge and adventure through the wilderness in pursuit of El Demonio de Dos Dedos. It is at times a tad bit far-fetched, but what great story of vengeance isn’t? Aided by an honorable Mexican horse thief, a reverend, and an elderly panther sniffing dog, Benjamin and Samantha set out to hunt the demonic predator. Hindering their progress is one Clarence Hanlin, a confederate soldier guilty of murder.
Judge: How many times did you have contact with him (Clarence Hanlin) after seeing him on the Julian?
Benjamin Shreve: It was ongoing, sir, after what my sister done to his finger. He was tracking us for two full days and a portion of another. On occasion he gave us chase. There was words spoken. There was shots fired.
Judge: I’m uncertain if you’re providing a deficit of information or a surplus, son, but I’m getting no closer to what I want to know. Can you stick close to the point?
Told almost entirely in an epistolary format, specifically Benjamin’s letters-as-testimony to a judge trying to convict Mr. Hanlin of his crimes, this novel is both earnest and deadpan, with a narrator both endearing and frustrating. Truly, The Which Way Tree is a treat, with a subtle hint of True Grit and a subtle-as-a-hammer nod to Moby Dick. This quest for vengeance, interspersed with real, true sibling love*, will charm you.
*meaning constant bickering, as any parent/sibling knows