The Woods by Harlan Coben : Review

Publisher : Penguin Group
Year Published : 2007
Rating : 3 stars

The Woods is available at

Review of The Woods

A strong lead character haunted by a tragic past is the set up that dominates the Harlan Coben thriller, The Woods. This is a thriller that starts off with the requisite hook that ensures you will want to learn more. Add to that a fiery courtroom battle, a healthy line of plot twists and a lighter than air attitude from the protagonist ensures that this is a book that will be easily and readily devoured.

cobenthewoodsPaul Copeland is the county prosecutor for Essex County in New Jersey. He’s a widower with a 6 year old daughter and in the middle of a rape case in which he is determined to get the conviction of the two rich-boy defendants.

He also has a complex past. 20 years ago he was a counsellor at summer camp when 4 of the campers, one of them his sister, sneaked off into the woods late at night. They were never seen alive again. The bodies of 2 of the kids were found, one with her throat slit, the other with multiple stab wounds to his body. But Gil Perez and Paul’s sister Camille were never found.

Another counsellor, Wayne Steubens was caught 2 years later after another couple of similar incidents at other summer camps. He was irrefutably guilty of those murders with souvenirs buried in his back yard, but he always maintained that he had no involvement in the original slaying.

Copeland has always harboured strong feelings of guilt because he was the person in charge of ensuring that all campers were safely in their cabins that night. It has now been brought crashing back when he is called by police to attend the county morgue to view the body of a man who had been shot to death. He has become involved because the dead man had his address in his pocket as well as a bunch of newspaper clippings about the old case. When Cope finally gets to take a look at the body he feels his world suddenly shift. He’s sure the man lying in front of him is Gil Perez, the boy who was presumed dead 20 years ago.

A whole world of possibilities are opened up if Cope is right and a man who was supposed to be dead nigh on 20 years has in actual fact been alive all that time. Chief among those possibilities is the previously unthinkable chance that maybe his sister also walked out of those woods and is still alive too.

Coben has that rare ability of writing with distinct dichotomy yet is able to maintain control of his characters and the varying plots. All the while, even when dealing with some seriously emotional issues, there is a constant good-humoured feel about the book thanks to the witty quips and observations fired out by Paul Copeland whose first person narrative directs the story.

The intrigue surrounding the murder in the woods is interspersed between the cut and thrust urgency of preparing and prosecuting a rape case. The courtroom scenes sizzle as Copeland fights for the rights of a young exotic dancer with prior convictions of prostitution. Outside of court and he has his hands full running his own unofficial investigation into the murder that has haunted him for so long.

Now, when reading through the premise for The Woods, as a dedicated reader of Harlan Coben’s stand-alone thrillers you may have thought to yourself that it sounds mighty similar to a couple of his other books. You’d be right, Tell No One and Gone For Good both feature characters who have lost relatives, both presumed dead when, blow me down, they realise that maybe their wife / brother might actually still be alive. I was a little disappointed that we seemed to be going over ground that had been previously covered by Coben and, while the legal scenes were refreshingly new, I still had a sense that I’d seen it all before and new pretty much how it was going to turn out.

The story races along at a brisk pace and, ignoring the horribly hackneyed ending for a moment, continues to mark Harlan Coben as an author to follow for the complex emotion-stirring thriller.

For a complete list of books, visit the Harlan Coben page.