Paul Copeland is the county prosecutor for his part of New Jersey. He's a widower who lost his wife to cancer and has a six year old daughter who he is raising on his own. His family history is complicated. His sister, Camille, has been missing, presumed dead, since their teenage years. One year at summer camp she went into the woods with three other kids, two were found murdered, but Camille and another boy, Gil Perez, were never found, but were thought to have been murdered too. A man is serving time in prison, not for these killings but for other very similar ones and it's widely thought he also committed these murders as he too was a teenager at this same camp.
Paul is visited by two New York detectives. They have found the body of a male, Manolo Santiago, and think he is connected to Paul as he has newspaper clippings about him. When Paul goes to view the body he has a shock... he recognises a scar on the arm of the body and knows it's Gil Perez. He didn't die in the woods that year, instead he's been alive for the last twenty years. Paul's indentification is brought into question though when Gil's parents come to identify the body properly. They swear blind it's not him.
This is not the kind of thing Paul needs at the moment. He has a difficult case on, involving the rape of an exotic dancer by two college boys. The father of one of the boys is threatening Paul with digging into his past if he pursues a guilty verdict. Paul knows he has things to hide because he too was at the summer camp when his sister disappeared.
Meanwhile a university lecturer, Lucy Gold, has been handed in an annonymous assignment which has shocked her. It tells in detail what happened to her at the summer camp her father owned, the year of the murders. At the time, she was Paul Copeland's girlfriend and there are things she did not tell the police.
Paul has no choice but to start an investigation into what happened that year. He must get answers and find out who really murdered the two teenagers and what happened to Gil and his sister, Camille.
Well, this is my first book by Harlan Coben. My husband reads him quite a lot, a series about a sports agent who investigates crimes I believe. The Woods is not part of that series, it's a stand-alone novel. I came to read it because Amazon sent me one of those, 'You might this' emails. I read the synopsis and thought, 'Yes... actually I might like that.' I knew my husband had ordered a load of Coben books from The Book People and when I checked which ones... there it was. Bingo!
This was a good mystery. I like those that have a lot of different threads, many secrets to discover, and that twist and turn all over the place. Paul was only first generation American, his parents were Russian so there was a bit of KGB stuff mixed in with the murders of the teenagers, family stuff that had been hidden and so forth. I was less enamoured of the secondary plot with the rape case. I'm not greatly into courtroom dramas so that didn't appeal, but it was intertwined with the rest of the plot quite cleverly I thought and did keep my interest.
I didn't think the book was that strong on characterisation. Partly that's my fault. I was looking to like Paul and found I didn't very much. To tell the truth no one in the book was that pleasant. So I'm torn, I do prefer to like the main protagonist in books, but how can that always be possible? But someone ought to be likeable, people are in real life, but the closest I came to liking someone was Paul's assistant, Loren Muse. I felt she was a strong enough character to warrant her own series. In a way I think this was a typical mystery written by a man - strong on plot and action, maybe not as good with the characters. But I did like it. The mystery elements kept me guessing, I liked the gradual revelations about Paul's family, and about that year at summer camp. And a nice final twist at the very end.
I'm not sure if I'll read any more by this author. We have a couple more stand-alones which I might dip into at some stage, that's as far as I'll commit to. When I saw it was set in New Jersey I was pleased as I thought I could add it to my American states challenge list. In all conscience I can't because I really didn't learn anything about New Jersey from it, it could have been anywhere quite frankly. It does however make quite a good start to the R.I.P. VIII challenge, so I'm happy with that.