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The Woodsby Harlan Coben
Synopses & Reviews
Twenty years ago, four teenagers at summer camp walked into the woods at night. Two were found murdered, and the others were never seen again. Four families had their lives changed forever. Now, two decades later, they are about to change again.
For Paul Copeland, the county prosecutor of Essex, New Jersey, mourning the loss of his sister has only recently begun to subside. Cope, as he is known, is now dealing with raising his six-year-old daughter as a single father after his wife has died from cancer. Balancing family life and a rapidly ascending career as a prosecutor distracts him from his past traumas, but only for so long. When a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to Cope, the well-buried secrets of the prosecutor's family are threatened.
Is this homicide victim one of the campers who disappeared with his sister? Could his sister be alive? Cope has to confront so much he left behind that summer twenty years ago: his first love, Lucy; his mother, who abandoned the family; and the secrets that his Russian parents might have been hiding even from their own children. Cope must decide what is better left hidden in the dark and what truths can be brought to the light.
"At the start of this disappointing stand-alone from bestseller Coben (Promise Me), Paul 'Cope' Copeland, acting county prosecutor for Essex County, N.J., and Lucy Gold, his long-lost summer camp love, are still haunted by a fateful night, decades earlier, when their nighttime tryst allowed some younger campers, including Cope's sister, to venture into the nearby forest, where they apparently fell victim to the Summer Slasher, a serial killer. Cope's intense focus on a high-profile rape prosecution of some wealthy college students shifts after one of the Slasher's victims, whose body was never found, turns up as a recent corpse in Manhattan, casting doubt on the official theory of the old case. Cope's own actions on that night again come under scrutiny, even as the highly placed fathers of the men he's prosecuting work to unearth as many skeletons as possible to pressure him into dropping the rape case. Less than compelling characters fail to compensate for a host of implausibilities. Hopefully, Coben will return to form with his next book." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Harlan Coben's 'The Woods' is what George Orwell liked to call a good bad book. Coben's fans, who've made several of his books bestsellers, will think the novel good because it's a lively, fast-moving entertainment, jampacked with the bizarre plot twists that are his stock in trade. But the novel is bad because Coben misses no opportunity to jazz it up and dumb it down. He seems to regard his readers... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) as unruly children who need to be poked frequently with a sharp stick to keep them awake. It's a novel for readers who are content to substitute cheap thrills for any pretense of probability. The first chapter begins: 'I was sitting in an elementary school gymnasium, watching my six-year-old daughter, Cara, nervously navigate across a balance beam ... but in less than an hour, I would be looking at the face of a man who'd been viciously murdered.' That's typical of Coben's storytelling. We'll get to the dead man soon enough, yet the author can't resist the drama of juxtaposing the child with the corpse. Of course, that's not drama, it's melodrama. Paul Copeland, the narrator, is a prosecutor in New Jersey. Twenty years earlier, he was a camp counselor when two teenage campers were murdered and two more vanished and were presumed dead. One of the missing teenagers was his sister. Copeland feels guilty because when he was supposed to be protecting the campers he was busy making out with his girlfriend. Then, in the present, the other missing camper turns up dead, raising the possibility that Copeland's sister is somehow, somewhere, alive after 20 years. The plot thus resembles that of Laura Lippman's 'What the Dead Know,' with its missing girl who may have reappeared after many years, but Coben's hurly-burly novel in no other way recalls Lippman's sensitive meditation on a broken family. As all this unfolds, Copeland is prosecuting a case in which 'two wealthy collegiate tennis players from the ritzy suburb of Short Hills stood accused of raping a sixteen-year-old African-American girl' — a stripper — after luring her to their fraternity house. It's a blatant rip-off of the now defunct Duke rape case, used to inject sex and scandal into the story. At one point, the rich father of one of the accused boys vows to destroy Copeland, who then threatens to arrange for his son to be raped in prison, which is not only tasteless but extremely unlikely behavior for a politically ambitious prosecutor. One revelation follows another, each as improbable as it is stunning. People are not who they appear to be. Bodies turn up in unexpected places, and people you think are harmless pull out guns and open fire. Copeland's family came from Russia, and two aging KGB thugs appear from time to time as bearers of bad news. Amid all this, the widowed Copeland manages to fall in love, giddy as a schoolboy, with a woman he hasn't seen since that fatal night in the woods. In this novel, of course, falling in love is an even bigger risk than it is in real life. 'The Woods' is distinguished by writing that ranges from the endearingly lurid to the sensationally bad. A gay defense lawyer in a purple suit looks 'like the love child of Liberace and Liza Minnelli.' A cop complains that his pizza 'tastes like something that disobeyed a pooper-scooper law.' A colleague 'searched my face, her eyes crawling on me like slimy worms.' A woman gestures 'like an amphetamine-fueled Sicilian who's nearly gotten clipped by a speeding car.' When Copeland's beloved smiles at him, 'I felt it rip open my chest.' Later, when bad news arrives, 'the words tore open my chest and shredded me apart.' Copeland's wife, who died of cancer, is remembered in the most mawkish terms: 'Jane was my rock. And then she got sick. My rock crumbled.' His daughter, for her part, exists mainly so Coben can toss in trendy references to SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer. The best writers trust their material, tell their story and play it straight. That, clearly, is not Coben's game plan. Still, amid all the high jinks, he keeps us wondering who killed those kids and where that sister is. Readers who can ignore, or perhaps even enjoy, all the cute stuff may stick with it to find out the answers, but others will find it heavy going. Let us speak for a moment of a memorable writer. I met David Halberstam in 1960, when we were reporters in Nashville. Recently, we exchanged messages about the death of a mutual friend from those days. Nearly 50 years later, David had forgotten nothing; he still had strong opinions about our friend's talents and shortcomings. David was a passionate man, a force of nature. One did not think of him dying but enduring, turning out book after book, forever. He was the great reporter of our time, one who strapped on seven-league boots and set out across the continents to explain the world to the world. We won't see his like again." Reviewed by Gerald Bartell, an arts and travel writer who lives in ManhattanPatrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The Woods is one more proof of Coben's skill at creating believable action without gratuitous violence." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Every prosecutor wins some and loses some over the course of a career....The book, however, is all win for the reader." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Twenty years ago at summer camp, Paul Copeland's sister died in the woods, the alleged victim of a serial killer. Her body was never found. Now, Paul is the prosecutor for Essex County, New Jersey, immersed in one of the biggest cases of his career-a case that will change everything he believes about the past...and the truth.
Paul Copeland, a New Jersey county prosecutor, is still grieving the loss of his sister twenty years ago-the night she walked into the woods, never to be seen again. But now, a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to the disappearance. The victim could be the boy who vanished along with Paul's sister. And, as hope rises that his sister could still be alive, dangerous secrets from his family's past threaten to tear apart everything Paul has been trying to hold together...
About the Author
Harlan Coben is the #1 bestselling author of thirteen previous novels, including Promise Me, The Innocent, Just One Look, No Second Chance, Gone for Good, and Tell No One, as well as the popular "Myron Bolitar" series. Winner of the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award, Harlan Coben lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.
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