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The Girl in the Woods / David Jack Bell

Delirium / August 2009
Reviewed by: Rick R. Reed

Synopsis: When Diana Greene leaves her hometown for a new life, she thinks she has left the past behind: her sister's disappearance, her mother's illness, and the visions Diana used to see...a clearing in the woods...a moonlit night...and human bones buried in the ground. And her past remains dormant until the day a mysterious woman appears on Diana's doorstep, promising Diana something she can't resist. "If you help me find my missing daughter, I'll tell you what happened to your sister." Soon Diana is digging into the past, uncovering secrets the town has long since buried, secrets that the powerful wish would stay hidden. But when another girl disappears and the visions return to Diana with a vengeance, she knows she is on the brink of solving more than just a few missing person cases. She is on the brink of discovering the dark and violent covenant that the town itself was founded upon.

Review: As both a writer and reader, I always am confounded by genre definitions. Do I write horror, suspense, mystery, paranormal, dark fantasy, thriller, or speculative fiction? All of the above? A, B, or C?

I suspect, on the basis of The Girl in the Woods, David Jack Bell might be confounded by the same difficulty. Is The Girl in the Woods a smart thriller, a paranormal tale about a strange clearing and its compelling effects, a police procedural, a dark fantasy about psychic visions? My answer to all of the questions above is: does it matter? As long as it’s a good story, I leave the pigeonholing to the literary critics, and the readers and reviewers who concern themselves with such things.

The Girl in the Woods is a good novel, period. It's a sharp, well-written page turner that as a reader I could not keep my hands off of, so compelling was my desire to see what happened next. Bell keeps us involved by creating an enormously sympathetic central character, Diana Greene, who is either a touch psychic or is a receiver for the pull of the mysterious clearing that is the heart of the book, a place where great evil has been done in the name of power. Bell also gives us a gray-shaded antagonist, a pitiable creature who only wants love, but is willing to kidnap, rape, and kill to have it. Somehow, Bell manages to make us feel something for this tainted creature aside from hatred.

I enjoyed The Girl in the Woods for many reasons, mainly the author’s crisp economical prose and his ability to breathlessly drive a narrative. Those two things demonstrate Bell’s talents as an author because he manages to sweep us up into his world and makes us forget the words he uses to describe it. That’s good writing: when an author can provide the verbal clues to spark and engage our imagination.

As good as The Girl in the Woods was, I did have a couple of quibbles. Spoilers ahead! (Be warned in case you want to come to the book with no preconceived notions.) One aspect of the novel I thought that really undercut the suspense was having the present-day missing girl be killed about three quarters of the way through the novel. I would have been more engaged as a reader if she had been alive and in jeopardy. Her being killed so early on was somewhat of a literary premature ejaculation, with much the same result as its physical counterpart: my interest declined precipitously. But Bell does manage to get a twist in near the end that I was not expecting, so he somewhat righted himself. The other thing that bothered me about the book was Diana’s mother, who seemed to also have a psychic connection to her missing daughter, yet the connection seemed off. She tells her daughter, “You have to go there. You have to find her.” We know she’s referring to the clearing and we assume (and rightly so) that she’s referring to her missing daughter, and Diana’s missing sister, Rachel. That turns out not to be the case…so I was left wondering why the mother knew anything at all, unless it was simply to place a red herring in the narrative.

Overall, though, I would highly recommend The Girl in the Woods to both fans of horror and suspense — and even true crime.

Purchase The Girl in the Woods by David Jack Bell.

Columnist Rick R. Reed is the author of twelve novels and has short fiction in more than twenty anthologies. He lives in Seattle, WA. Find out more about the author at his official author website.

Posted on Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 11:10AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine | Comments Off

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