The Crying Tree

The Crying Tree Cover

Naseem Rakha

Irene Stanley thought her world had come to an end when her 15-year-old son, Shep, was murdered in a robbery at their Oregon home. Daniel Robbin, who had spent his teenage years in and out of trouble, gave himself up to the police and was imprisoned in the State Penitentiary. Now, eighteen years later, Robbin is placed on Death Row awaiting a date for his execution. Irene's husband, Nate, has demons from the past of his own which he needs to face, and Shep's sister, Bliss, quickly learns that she too has a part to play in the healing of her family shattered by the tragedy. Irene, having reached the brink of suicide, comes to the realization that to survive she needs to overcome her grief and her hate for Robbin, and that she must face the secrets that she suspects surround Shep's murder. She turns full circle, defying both her family and the church, and finds that she is not only capable of forgiveness for the man who murdered her son, but also she comes to terms with understanding much more about events that happened that fateful afternoon back in Carlton. And perhaps the most painful realization of all, how little they as a family understood Shep. 'For anyone who has ever wondered how forgiveness is possible, even when the pain is overwhelming, wonder no more. "The Crying Tree" takes you on a journey you won't soon forget' - Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking".


The clue may be in the title but if The Crying Tree doesn’t bring you to tears, you have better control over your blubbing than I do.

This is an astonishing debut novel by Naseem Rakha. The principal planks of the plot are straightforward enough: a gentle, musically gifted 15 year old boy, Shep, is shot at the family home in Oregon by a drifter.

Shep’s father arrives to find his son dying and despite battlefield training from his days in Vietnam, and more recent experience as a police officer, there is nothing he can do to stop the boy’s life ebbing away.

The tragedy paralyses the family’s lives. Shep’s mother, Irene, retreats into a cauldron of hatred for the killer, who quickly turns himself in and is given the state’s harshest sentence: death by lethal injection. Shep’s parents and sister sink into a dreadful limbo, waiting for the sentence to be carried out. It is the only thing they believe will bring them healing, and allow them to move on with their lives.

It is a long wait. Only now, 19 years after the murder, all legal processes exhausted, is the execution finally at hand. But one person is prepared to make a last effort to save the killer’s life. Shep’s mother.

Her reasons, and the impact on her family, make for an utterly absorbing, rollercoaster read. The ethics of the state choosing to take a life for a life are compellingly dissected, and the pain of losing a beloved child is hauntingly described. What a start for a new writer.


If you enjoy reading Jodie Picoult, you’ll enjoy reading Naseem Rakha, and this is her first novel, for heaven’s sake.

These are big themes for a new writer but Rakha knows what she’s doing. Without any obvious hints or nods, she communicates almost from the off that everything we think we know about Shep’s murder is wrong.

His policeman father may be genuinely distraught that he couldn’t save his son, but he is holding something back about what happened on the day of the shooting.

The killer, Daniel Robbin, who was a troubled 19 year old when the tragedy happened, is now a thoughtful 38 year old and something of an enigma.

He welcomes the fact that his long-delayed appointment in the death chamber is just a few days away, but we gradually realise that he too is keeping information back.

When Shep’s mother is told the date for the execution has been set, she realises to her horror and despair that killing Daniel won’t solve a thing, and that forgiveness is her only way of coming to terms with the tragedy.

The final countdown on Death Row is grippingly conveyed, and some very deep questions are addressed by Rakha. The Crying Tree is, quite simply, a terrific story.

Naseem Rakha talks to Richard and Judy

Reviews & Comments

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  • Warning -- You will read, not sleep. You will read pages again, just because they are that good. Sleep is overrated, this book isn't.

    Reader One

  • This is an excellent debut novel with a profound story line and I shall certainly be looking out for more books by this author.

    At the age of 15 Shep Stanley is murdered in his own home by known tear-away, Daniel Robbin. Shep's Dad attempts to save him but he dies in his Dad's arms. For Irene, his mother, life ends on this day; she moves through the funeral and the court case in a perpetual daze. Daniel is convicted and placed on death row but nothing changes for Irene. As the years pass and Irene only manages to get from day to day with the help of alcohol, there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Until Shep's 25th birthday, when she decides to write to Daniel. When the impossible happens and she receives a reply, everything turns around for Irene: finally she finds a way to cope with her loss.

    The book persues the effect of Shep's death on the whole family and subsequently the effects of Irene's actions too. We meet Tab Mason, the prison officer who is responsible for ensuring that the 'procedure' is humanely carried out, and discover how difficult a job it is to take a man's life. And finally we hear from Daniel as he faces up to his actions. The characters are well rounded and the story flows well. It's hard to say why I didn't feel it quite made 5 stars. For me it just didn't quite have that unputdownable quality. I also think the cover gave away a little too much, I'd have preferred not to have known that Irene Stanley forgave Daniel although the consequences made for interesting reading. It reminded me of the Jodi Picoult book Change of Heart and you may enjoy this if you liked The Crying Tree. Both excellent reads and highly recommended.


  • This book will make you cry it will make you smile but most of all it will make you think

    A 15 year old boy is murdered and the story tells of how his family come to terms with his death. His father copes by saying we should move forward and not discuss it, but underneath this hard veneer he has a secret eating away at him. His mother descends into deep depression which she thinks will stop when her childs murderer is executed by lethal injection.His sister becomes a prosecutor in texas. They all have not forgotten until the time comes for Shep's murderer to be executed and then all sorts of truths emerge.

    I was gripped reading this book I could not put it down and it made me question my views on capital punishment. but more than that it examines grief and how people deal with it mostly on their own. I would recommend this book and would read it again to pick up the nuances I had missed on a first read.

    Sussex reader

  • This book was my final read on my recent Cyprus holiday and I finished it in just two days. The story has been explained in other posts, but I cannot emphasise how rich the characters are in this book. You are drawn in from the beginning and feel a real connection with Irene and her family. As the story develops the clues are pin pointed through each chapter until you get to the devastating truth and secrets that would tear any family apart. What endeared me to this book was the human element that is throughout the entire story – they could be real people – the author’s description of their surroundings, the emotions they are going through feels so real I was wiping away a tear at the very last page sat on a Cypriot beach surrounded by tourists. :) I only read when I go away (life is full of other ‘stuff’) but hats off to R & J (love you guys) for picking a book that has become one of my favourites. The time you invest in reading this book gives so many rewards – worth every minute. Thanks for reading - Matt


  • Well,I enjoyed reading this book but the story never came alive to me. I thought the plot was weak and even not believable.I think maybe this is why I felt a little let down because I have enjoyed the other books recommended. I thought that Nat (the father) wouldnot have kept the secret for 19 years,especially as he was in the police. All the same,I had to finish the book although I have read better.


  • The Crying Tree was my first R & J book club read. My husband picked it for me from your list. I loved this book the detailed description in each areas. Once I got to halfway through I was picking it up and every chance i could get, in order to get to the end. A great read and not one i would have picked for myself. So pleased R & J club put it on their list. Will read other books from this writer. Thank-you

    Maria from Essex

  • This was a great book and I could not put it down. I felt an intense involvement with the characters and was urged to read more in each chapter. The end was very sad but I do question if he would have truely said nothing for so long. The book reminded me of the complexities of life that go on unnoticed but hide under the surface.

    A. Cross

  • For me this is the best book in the list by far. It's one of those books you really do not want end. it touches on so many different issues-grief, capital punishment, homophobia, family relationships and the plot is expertly woven. The characters are richly brought to life and it is superbly written. I have read 6 of the books so far and at the moment this one is top of the charts

    Catherine Le Busque

  • My first read of the book club and I just could not put it down. I have not read a novel for a very long time and this was an excellent novel to start with. It took me just 3 days to finish and made me realise that reading a novel is much more enjoyable than watching a movie!


  • Hi Richard and Judy Thanks for introducing new authors to us everytime. Its commendable. I do hope that you include anthology of short stories and poems in the future lists to promote and support these forms of writing. You might be interested to read 'Same Difference-New voices of Asian women writers all over the world'. It is an effort put together by an organisation called VAANI the voice of Asian Women Authors and Artists. Thanks in advance Best wishes and regards.


  • After not being able to get past the first few pages of many books and feeling very uninspired I downloaded the first chapter of The Crying Tree on my new kindle and a few minutes later I bought the remainder of the book and am so glad I did. A wonderful book. Couldn't put it down

    Kelly Brown

  • There are not many books that make me cry but this one did. Without doubt it is one of the best books I have ever read.

    Kath L

  • I could not put this book down!! Great read.


  • Fantastic book with an incredibly touching storyline illustrating the power of trust, forgiveness and love.


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