Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

This has got to be the weirdest book I’ve read this year.

talloaksTall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

Genres: Mystery, Crime, Contemporary
Published: 7th April, 2016
Series: N/A
Rating: 5

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .
When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.
Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.
Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.
Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.
And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .
In Chris Whitaker’s brilliant and original debut novel, missing persons, secret identities and dangerous lies abound in a town as idiosyncratic as its inhabitants.

It’s dark, but also funny?! I mean, the story starts out with a child going missing, which is probably the farthest things from being hilarious, but as we expand on to the town’s inhabitants, the atmosphere changes from time to time. We already established I find the weirdest shit amusing, but it still took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I’m basically cracking up while tragedy is pouring out of the pages.

Don’t get me wrong, the whole missing child, devastated mother thing is done right, and let me tell you, she ain’t laughing. Neither did I. She’s actually pretty fucked up as one could imagine. It’s pretty heart breaking. But in contrast the other people in town are just a right bunch of weirdos. The dude who doesn’t go on more than three dates before he disappears completely, the teenager who aspires to be a gangster because he looks better in a three piece suit than a t-shirt, or the three year old little girl who swears like a fucking sailor. Not to mention the married couple with their secrets and the husband’s fondness of poolside shenanigans. Whoever made the comparison to Twin Peaks was definitely onto something. There’s nothing paranormal though, but a few things that happen are pretty much gone wild material or just downright morbid. There’s just the right amount of sass in the dialogues as well that every now and then I snorted while I was reading.

“What’s up, doll?”
She smiled, looked up at his hat, and then down at his wingtips. He straightened his tie.
“Hello,” she said.
“I’m M. That’s my place next door.”
“I’m Furat.” He extended his hand and she shook it.
“Furat. Tough break. Anyone ever call you Rat?”
“Well, that’s something at least.”

Even though Tall Oaks is a sort of mystery, what with the missing kid and all, but there’s not all that much of policing being done. No interviewing suspects, going door to door, the usual. Kid’s been gone for three months but the town is still affected. People are suspicious. Locking their doors. Don’t trust strangers. The police chief while obsessed with the case, can’t do much at all if nobody saw anything and there aren’t many clues. Unless…

Tall Oaks is unlike most books I came across, but the writing style reminded me of Carsten Stroud’s Niceville. Without the ghostly occurrences, that is. The character names, the snappy chapter titles, the small town setting, the narrative jumping from one person to another to then all come together at the end. Little snippets of life forming one big story.5

Have you read Tall Oaks? Do you know any other books written in a similar style you would recommend?


  1. Ah, excellent review, Norrie. I like weird, I like small town mysteries, and I love characters who liven-up this style of book with warped humour when things should be dire. It helps bring balance to gut-wrenching subjects. And yep, put it on my Must Check Out list! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, this reminded me a few books I’ve read over the years that have great characterisation. The story is always fairly straight forward but the people are what’s memorable. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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