The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

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The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben front cover

In a world where crime novel reading can sometimes feel a little samey, here’s an author you can always rely upon to come up with something that bit different.

So meet Wilde, the boy from the woods of the title. He’s an attractive loner who lives in an eco-capsule in the middle of a forest. A cross between Jack Reacher and Tarzan, Wilde is something of a free spirit. A former soldier who now does a bit of private investigating, he’s a hit with the opposite sex. And he also has an intriguing history – 30 years ago, young, near-feral Wilde was found in the backwoods of New Jersey. Who he is and how he got there are questions that have never yet been answered satisfactorily.

So far, so unusual, and for Coben fans things are about to take a pleasing turn. Because Wilde is also connected to someone they’ve met before, several times, as a supporting player in some of the author’s other books. In this book, celebrity lawyer Hester Crimstein finally gets her place in the spotlight and the contrast between the handsome, virile, happy-to-stay-in-the-shadows woodsman and the savvy, outspoken, publicity-loving 70-year-old widow couldn’t be more stark. It really works though, and their offbeat partnership is one of the joys of this book.

Hester contacts Wilde when a young girl goes missing from the small town of Westville, New Jersey. Naomi Pine was the class outcast, so why is Hester’s grandson, Matthew, so worried about her? Wilde is Matthew’s godfather and he agrees to help. But what he eventually discovers doesn’t seem to add up.

Then Crash Maynard, one of the school’s most popular students, goes missing too and things really notch up a gear. There’s evidence that Crash had bullied Naomi, but again, something is a bit off about it all. When a ransom demand is received, it looks like Crash’s disappearance could be connected to rumours about a presidential hopeful who is good friends with his father. Dash Maynard is a filmmaker and over the years he has amassed a huge amount of hidden camera footage too. It’s said he has the goods on Rusty Eggers, though Dash denies this vehemently – even when evidence comes forward that his son is in real danger.

The Boy from the Woods has a wide ranging cast of characters and a sweeping storyline that takes you up all manner of winding paths. Some lead to a satisfying conclusion while others leave things in mid-air. A prime example of the latter is Wilde himself. He’s firmly sketched in place but the finer detail just isn’t there and by the end of the book there are still a busload of mysteries yet to be sorted out. No surprise, then, to discover that Harlan Coben is planning a series featuring this most unusual protagonist, and Hester could be along for the ride too.

There’s something very visual about this book and I could easily see it becoming another Netflix success for Coben (who has already seen adaptations of The Five, Safe, and The Stranger find a place on the hugely popular streaming service). For the reader, though, the satisfying minutiae that makes a book such a great experience is somewhat lacking and by the end I had a number of questions that went unanswered.

The Boy from the Woods is a solid start for a new series and there’s plenty for Coben to build on in the future, but if I were reading this as a standalone I’d be feeling somewhat short-changed.

You’ll find another enigmatic loner in The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver, while Bluff by Michael Kardos also takes New Jersey as its setting.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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