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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "The Woods" by Harlan Coben
By Milton M. Gross
Dec 30, 2012 - 12:40:09 AM

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The Woods, by Harlan Coben is a fair murder mystery, but not as well written as some and perhaps with some confusion from the subplot. Milt Gross photo.
The Woods is a good murder mystery but has too many twists and turns. The beginning is excellent, sets up the horrible circumstance, and the very end is excellent, but potentially sad.

But a good bit of what's in between is too complicated.

This New Jersey-based story begins, "I see my father with that shovel.

"There are tears streaming down his face. An awful, guttural sob forces its way up from deep in his lungs and out through his lips. He raises the shovel up and strikes the ground. The blade rips into the earth like it's wet flesh.

"I am eighteen years old, and this is my most vivid memory of my father -- him, in the woods, with that shovel. He doesn't know I'm watching. I hide behind a tree while he digs. He does it with a fury, as though the ground has angered him and he is seeking vengeance."

The tale is about four teenagers, who have disappeared in the woods near the summer camp where they work or are campers. Two of their bodies were found, dead and buried, and the assumption by police is that the remaining two were also murdered.

A man is in prison for the deaths of the two murdered teens. Paul Copeland, the brother of one of the four and the county prosecutor of a New Jersey city, is trying to find out what happened to the two that were not found, one of whom was his sister.

A straightforward plot told primarily in the first person with the "straightforward" description fading when a subplot from the Cold War days in Russia enters the tale. The story carries you onward in your quest to find out what happened to the missing two and see the Cold War plot unraveled.

My problem with the book is that it is complicated with too many characters appearing at different times, adding to the story line. The plot thickens, itself becomes a mystery with too much going on that is not directly leading to the resolution of the original mystery -- although actually what's going on does in a way lead to that resolution. It's just that this reader couldn't keep track of everyone and their relation to everyone else.

A satisfying romance also runs through the pages, which kept this reader's winter-chilled soul warmed with those romantic possibilities.

After some confusion on the part of this reader, the mystery is solved, Copeland is shot and hit but does not die, and the romance continues -- until the last two paragraph's. Lucy, Copeland's partner in romance -- actual love by this time -- turns out to have been involved in the initial plot resulting in the two teenagers' deaths and the other two's disappearance.

One additional but I'm sure unintentional cause of confusion in the copy I found at our town's recycling center are some major printing errors, a chapter printed twice, others out of order, but resolved for me by some earlier reader's penciled notes explaining all this and on what page the story continues.

Without revealing more of the plot, I leave you with the final two paragraphs, "The trees seem to close in on us. I look up at them and then I look at Lucy's face. I see the beauty. I see the damage. I want to go to her. But I can't.

"I turn instead and walk away from the woman I love. I expect her to call out for me to stop. But she doesn't. She let's me go. I hear her sobs. I walk some more. I walk until I am out of the woods and back by the car. I sit on the curb and close my eyes. Eventually she will have to come back here. So I sit and wait for her. I wonder where we will go after she comes out. I wonder if we will drive off together or if these woods, after all these years, will have claimed on last victim."

The Woods is worth reading, if you're willing to tackle the confusion brought on by the subplots. It's not a Stuart Woods novel, but it's good.

It was published in 2007 by DUTTON, a subsidiary of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 and sold then at retail for $26.95. You may find a better price online.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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