First line: "It was 1981 and we were twenty minutes away from the rest of our lives."
Tommy Devereaux is a successful thriller writer. His books have consistently featured female villains and his newest novel, The Blood of the Young, is more non-fiction than anyone realizes. His first chapter is the true story of Tommy's youth.
While out in the woods with his buddies Mark and Jason one day, Tommy encounters Elizabeth, a teen girl they've never met before. She shows up with Rade, a neighborhood boy several years younger than fourteen-year-old Tommy and his pals. Elizabeth entices the boys over and brutally murders Rade. The boys help to bury Rade and they never see Elizabeth again. Until the teaser for Tommy's book, The Blood of the Young, comes out thirty years later.
When Elizabeth re-enters Tommy's life and threatens to reveal his involvement in Rade's murder unless he writes his new book the way she wants the story told, his life is suddenly and horrifically turned up-side-down. He's now living the horror stories he's always written.
The Boy in the Woods is an intense, twisty plot full of red herrings and suspense. The female villain is a terrifying sociopath readers will delight in despising. And I found myself engrossed simply to understand her motivation. I feel that's the intention of author Carter Wilson, so readers can understand why Tommy chooses to write female villains throughout his career: it is a constant drive to understand the horror he experienced as a kid. It's something so foreign to him that he craves to understand it. And that's what will keep readers connected to the story.
A smaller but still very powerful element of the novel is the effect of Rade's disappearance. His body is never discovered and his family never has any answers about what happened to him. Wilson's portrayal of Rade's father is unsettling in its authenticity.
Finally the presentation of the way this horrific act affects each of the three boys adds a layer of complexity to the novel. Each child witnessed the same murder, yet their reactions and subsequent development into adults differs so drastically. This is a book rich in character study.
The Boy in the Woods has a fast pace and a suspenseful soundtrack. Readers will be torn in their desire to turn pages fast but simultaneously proceed with caution because there's no telling what might happen next. Wilson doesn't shy away from his violence, but he also isn't gratuitous. Elizabeth is a deranged sociopath and he doesn't tiptoe around that, but he also doesn't luxuriate in graphic details. That said, those who avoid violence to children will probably want to skip this one due to Rade's murder. It happens on the page and is realistically disturbing.
The Boy in the Woods is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0727883858) from Severn House.