The Woods, by Harlan Coben (12 July)

Let me just start by saying that I am very glad I only paid 14.7 cents for this book. Yeah. I must have read a glowing review somewhere, but honestly I would not have finished this book if it weren’t the only book I had to read on my drive home Sunday.

Maybe it’s because it’s Coben’s what, fourteenth book (and I haven’t read any others), but the premise seems a little… out there? and also it seems that his editors took a nap on this one. There are a lot of little annoyances, like using seem(s) in three of four consecutive sentences, and a couple big things, like harping on a character’s hatred of the outdoors for a paragraph and then five pages later telling me that she’s enjoying climbing on rocks and around trees, that just made it really hard to get into the story.

But back to the premise: Paul Copeland was a camp counselor at a summer camp the year that his sister and three other kids disappeared into the woods. Two of them turned up dead; Paul’s sister and one of the boys were never found. Now, 20 years later, Copeland is a county prosecutor, trying high-profile cases in Essex County, New Jersey. He’s dealt with his sister’s ambiguous death (with just a disappearance, there’s always hope) as best he can, but then a couple of cops show up with news that a now-dead guy seems to have been looking for him in relation to the camp deaths. When Copeland goes to identify the mystery man, he realizes it’s none other than the boy who disappeared from the woods along with Copeland’s sister. Copeland starts an investigation into this thing (yeah, I don’t know how that works, either) and learns a lot of things he might not have wanted to know about what really happened.

And that seems okay, I guess, but there’s a lot more to it — Copeland’s high-profile case has a couple of defendants whose parents decide to drag his name through the mud a few dozen times, he reunites with his summer-camp girlfriend who also wants to know what’s going on, his dad may or may not be KGB, there are cover-ups of all sorts of different crimes rolled up into this one…. It’s just too much. It’s like Coben thought, how many different twists can I throw into this mystery before my readers will strangle me?, and then added two or three more. And then he pulls the “I don’t care that the mystery is over, let me throw in just one more twist that the readers will find shocking but that doesn’t really factor into the story at all” bit that Jodi Picoult likes so much, and really. Come on. Come on.

I understand that Coben has won some awards for previous novels. If you’ve read both this one and (one of) those — are they better?

Rating: 4/10

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