The Boy from the Woods
I’ve been a fan of Harlan Coben’s tightly plotted mysteries since the early 2000s. He’s written a number of books, some of which are part of a series, while the rest stand alone. However, even the stand alone novels have a few supporting characters in common, though it isn’t necessary to read them in any particular order. Now, in The Boy from the Woods, Mr. Coben is putting one of those secondary characters center stage, and I was delighted by the prospect of watching her shine.
Hester Crimstein is a successful attorney in her seventies. She’s managed to make a name for herself by winning several high profile criminal cases, and she even has a regular spot on a primetime TV show. Most people involved in the criminal justice system respect her immensely, and those who don’t know better than to let their negative feelings show in public. In short, Hester is a force to be reckoned with.
Her life may be pretty spectacular now, but that hasn’t always been the case. Several years before our story begins, Hester’s son David was killed in a tragic car accident, leaving behind a wife and young son. Ever since that day, Hester has done her best to look after David’s wife and child, helped along by David’s childhood friend, a man known as Wilde. The four are quite close, but Wilde’s past is shrouded in mystery, causing him to keep everyone, even those he loves most, at a bit of a distance.
When a local girl goes missing, Hester and Wilde are drawn into the investigation. Wilde doesn’t want to participate, but since the last place the teenager was seen isn’t far from where he now lives, he feels compelled to figure out what happened to her. Much to his dismay, looking into the case raises questions about his own past, questions that have gone unanswered for the past thirty years, questions some very powerful people will go to whatever lengths prove necessary in order to keep the truth a secret.
I was beyond excited to start reading The Boy from the Woods. Hester has been a favorite character of mine for quite some time, and I was eager to get to know her better. Her roles in Coben’s previous books have been rather small, and this one definitely allowed me to understand her complicated backstory. It really was the best thing about this rather disappointing novel.
Wilde’s history had so much potential for intrigue. He was found as a young child, living in the woods alone with no memory of his past, and his family was never found. As a result, he grew up in the foster care system, and now, as an adult, lives alone in a closely-guarded house on the outskirts of town. Unfortunately, while Wilde’s past is interesting, his current life isn’t much to get excited about. We aren’t given a lot of insight into him and he doesn’t feel like a fully-fleshed out character, feeling instead like a two-dimensional cut-out who exists only as a sort of henchman for Hester. He has quite a few specialized skills that make him the perfect person to investigate the teen’s disappearance, but the reader has no clue how these skills were gained or developed. Basically, we’re just supposed to accept that he has them without understanding how or why.
Mr. Coben usually writes books I hate to put down, but this one never managed to fully capture me. I devoured the chapters from Hester’s perspective, but whenever Wilde took over the storytelling, my interest waned. I plowed through to the end, constantly hoping things would improve, but they never did, and I reached the end feeling more than a little let down.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who does plan to pick this one up, but I do have to say that I’m not a fan of outlandish political conspiracies. I love a good twist as much as the next person, but books that rely on the trope used here generally don’t work for me. Mr. Coben usually doesn’t go in that direction, but this novel definitely has a political bent.
If you’re a die-hard Hester Crimstein fan, you’ll want to give The Boy from the Woods a try so you can spend more time in her head. But for the most part, it’s a lackluster story with a few sparks of brilliance thrown in to remind readers that Harlan Coben is a gifted writer. He just didn’t manage to wow me this time.