It is said that in the deep woods right outside of Julia Springs, Georgia, lives a creature of myth and legend, the Chinaberry Man, so named due to the sweet, pungent scent remembered by those who have remotely come across him. Remotely because very few have lived to tell of a close encounter, except one. Gina McFarland has always been special: predicting plane crashes, having visions and dreams that come true—mostly the kind that don’t have happy endings. Now she sees the dead. And, of all people, the creature has chosen to save her. In a matter of days, several strange events threaten the peace of this quiet hamlet, all of which culminate in hatred and revenge, Mother Nature’s wrath, pure serendipity—and the love song of the Chinaberry Man.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Love Song of the Chinaberry Man by Trisha O’Keefe, Kenya is a young teenager being abused by her stepfather. When she tries to tell her mother, the woman beats her and throws hot coals at her. Just another day in swaps of Georgia. Throw in another pregnant teenager, the murder of an old woman and a teenage boy, and you have a complicated stew of a mystery/thriller. But when you add in mythical creatures of legend, the story gets really complicated.
The plot is strong, the characters well developed and intriguing, and the action fast-paced. Once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Love Song of the Chinaberry Man by Trisha O’Keefe is an fascinating and complicated paranormal thriller. Set in the bayous of Georgia, the plot revolves around several families in a small town called Julia Springs and the creature they call the Chinaberry Man, a Southern version of Big Foot. As the lives of the residents of the town and the deep woods/swampland, the locals call the Thicket, play out on a background of intrigue and murder, the Chinaberry Man exacts revenge for disrespect shown to a voodoo priestess, the rape of a young girl, the imprisonment of others, and generally helps the good people in the area. But is his help intentional or inadvertent? And who killed the wealthy dowager? And what about the “deacon” living in the swamp with all his wives and children? Oh, wait, they all moved out and started their own compound. Needless to say, it’s a complex story.
I love all the little subplots and the innocence skimming on the surface of evil. O’Keefe has crafted an intriguing tale of paranormal creatures, murder, greed, lust, superstition, and everyday life in rural Georgia. This one’s a page turner you’ll want to read more than once.
They heard her singing long before they came upon the tall brown woman in the deep woods. The two hunters had been following their dogs through the primeval tangle of water oaks, sweet gum, sticky vine, and spiky marsh grass since before dawn. The sun had climbed to its seventh hour, searching for the forest floor with fingers of insect-filled light. At the very moment when a shaft of light lit the huge water oak ahead of them, an eerie sound seemed to come bubbling up through the green ooze beneath their boots.
The taller of the two, a skinny kid named Cole Prescott, froze and raised his hand the way he’d seen infantry patrol leaders do in war movies. “What the hell is that noise? Who’s she talking to?”
At his signal, they crouched down, watching the woman standing beneath the mammoth tree, waving her arms as if welcoming an invisible deity. Her mouth opened wide in song, she swayed back and forth as if moved by the morning breeze gently stirring the smaller trees around her.
“Sounds like some kind of hoodoo thing,” his companion whispered. He was seventeen with a fiery line of acne still tracing his narrow jaw beneath the patchy start of a beard. “It’s not English, I know that. And it ain’t Christian, neither.”
Their raspy voices in the underbrush sent nesting birds flying, but she didn’t stop, so deep in prayer was Root Woman. She raised her arms to the whispering canopy of trees far above her head and chanted in Geechee, “Oh, come, Old One, come and feast. Here are offerings of your children, come partake of food and drink. Oh, come, Guardian of the Deep Woods, you First One of the trees and streams, come guardian of those who hide behind your strength–the poor, the runaways, the outlaws, the outcasts. Come, drink and eat! Come.”
Her deep voice wove through the green maze with a resonance only belonging to forest creatures. As if summoned, a chilly breeze lifted the gray Spanish moss like a child playing with an old man’s beard. Then it grew into a stiff wind, bending the branches that held the moss until they looked like gray banners waving above a battlefield.
“Who the hell is she talking to, Cole?” The younger one glanced up as the breeze spiraled into a strong wind that moved the branches over the heads of the hunters. “What’s that? Did you feel that?”
It seemed to him the very ground shook, sending vibrations through their bones. In the jungle behind them, the sky darkened and appeared to boil. The dogs crouched and whined, looking back at their masters for the call to retreat.
All except the Catahoula curs who sat down, fixing their glassy yellow eyes on the woman in the clearing as if they were waiting for a signal. They stretched their long dark bodies across the marshy ground, quivering like runners on the mark.
“Aw, just the military training ground across the river setting off bombs is all that is.” Cole spat in scorn as if bombs were nothing to fear. Then he got to his feet, his body stiff with resolve. “I’ve had enough of this crap,” he said, spitting at one of the dogs who had the sense to get out of the way.
“What in hell you doing, old woman? Knock off your magic tricks and get the hell out of here! You’re scaring off the deer.” The taller of the boys advanced into the clearing pointing his rifle at the woman’s turbaned head. “I said get the hell out, woman!”
His friend stayed back in the tall weeds, looking behind him into the thick underbrush where he heard branches knocking together like jungle drums.
“Go easy, Cole. She ain’t’ doing nothing, except the hoo-doo magic. They talk to trees and rocks and shit. It’s just how they do.”
But his companion ignored the warning, stopping just short of the woman, rifle pointing at her chest. “Snap out of it and scram, old woman! You’re trespassing!”
The look she turned on him made him retreat a step. “No, son of Prescott, it is you who trespasses against me. Now, go on with your hunting or you will be the hunted.”
“My dad bought this property for hunting and I said you’re trespassing! Now, get going.”
But with just a look, Root Woman had melted the resolve on the face behind the rifle. Prescott took another step backward in spite of having a length of shotgun between them. “You have no right to interrupt prayers, Cole Prescott. Go away, before–”
“Prayers! You call that caterwauling praying? Hey, Trey, she says she was saying her prayers. It sound like any kind of praying you ever heard?” Without waiting for a reply, Cole flared up. “I’ve heard about you, old woman. You do jou-jou magic, calling up spirits and crap like that. Now, quit doing your magic spells and clear off. You’re trespassing and, what’s worse, you’re scaring off the game with all that howling you call singing.”
Root Woman sighed and shook her head. “You don’t respect nothing, son. That’s a sad way to live.” Leaning over painfully, she picked up her shawl which lay next to a turtle shell piled up with roots. Beside it were two more gourd bowls, one with berries and strawberry box wine, the other with dried persimmons and figs. “But listen to what I say, Cole Prescott. If I were you, I’d keep going along home or you’ll soon be the game.”
“I take that as a threat!! I said scram, you old bitch!” He was aiming a kick at her ample rear when a sudden burst of cold wind bowed down the towering trees. A whirlwind of leaves and dust clouded his vision and his kick missed its mark. Prescott lost his balance, falling backward, cursing, to the ground.
Root Woman straightened, her eyes fixed on the dense forest surrounding the clearing. The younger sapling bent down as if bowing to a superior force and, here and there, branches crashed to the ground.
“Run,” she said to the other hunter. “Don’t look back!”
Woods and grasses began to shake and writhe convulsively in a mad dance and Root Woman fell to the ground, arms out flung, her forehead pressing to the earth in abject supplication. The last thing Cole Prescott remembered was a pair of saplings being uprooted and flying skyward as if they had wings. Then, like a supplicant pleading for his life, he followed them into the sky.
Trey Blake shrieked and turned tail, running like the deer he had come to hunt. Unfamiliar with the Swamp, he plunged into water up to his waist, clawed his way out again, and got upright. Stumbling and sprawling, gasping like an asthmatic, he put distance between himself and the sound of Cole’s hideous screams. Then a gnarled tree root tripped him again and he sprawled out like a starfish. He lay there listening for death that would surely come, but the screaming had stopped and the ground was no longer alive with waving trees.
© 2015 by Trisha O’Keefe