Monday, December 10, 2007

FIR #8 - The Woods

I love Harlan Coben. I've read all of stand-alone novels and a few of his Myron Bolitar series. He's a fantastic mystery writer with a witty sense of humor who knows how to captivate the reader, creating brilliant twisty-turns in thrilling stories. Sometimes far-fetched or stretching but always tantalizing with "what is going on" moments, his tales create a must-read feeling - just to know what will happen next. So it is with The Woods, Coben's latest foray into the world of whodunits.

In The Woods, Paul Copeland is the Essex County, New Jersey prosecuter. He is in the middle of an ugly rape case when he gets the call from NY detectives; it seems they believe Copeland can help them with the details of an unsolved murder, a murder that may relate to the brutal slaying of Copeland's sister 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago at an idealic summer camp, four teenagers were brutally murdered, including Copeland's sister Camille. The serial killer is behind bars, and Copeland is just now getting on with his life, learning to raise his six year old daughter alone after his wife's death from cancer. Lucy Gold, a professor at a nearby college and Copeland's ex-girlfriend from camp days, begins receiving a journal in a creative writing class from one of her students that recreated - in vivid details - the night of those murders. Who could be writing the journal? How could they know about that night? Why after 20 years are the memories resurfacing now?

As is typical with Coben novels, much is thrown at you, and for the most part, it's catchable. There are twists throughout the book, down to the last page, and all of the loose ends are resolved. One of the things that I love about this particular novel is that the ending is left to your imagination. Coben writes the ending in such a way that you the reader determine the outcome of the book.  Even though the ending is complete in essentials, he gives you everything and lets you decide the fate. It's been a month since I've read the book, and I'm still thinking about what I think the characters did after the final words were read.

However, this book reflects the first time when Coben's creation seems formulaic and plain.  Another concept that bothered me is that the protagonist's young daughter and recently-deceased wife held no importance in the story.  Copeland didn't seem to care about his family like a new widower probably would, often leaving his daughter (who was very much in need of a spanking or, at the very least, a come to Jesus meeting) in the possession of his sister-in-law for long periods of time, without ever wondering about her.  Also, the Russian/KGB angle also seemed contrived and unnecessary. Still, Coben has the knack for making the improbable plausible and having fun with even the most far-fetched scenarios.

Despite that last paragraph, I still recommend The Woods since formulaic to Coben is so much more creative, memorable and just plain better that most other mystery writers of any age. When you're reading Coben, you just can't go wrong.  The man has a gift for which I'm thankful he will share.

Reading list and previous reviews for the Reading Challenge:

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