Click here to read reviewer Angela McQuay's take on The Woods.
Coben wraps a mystery around a courtroom drama in this compelling thriller set in Essex County, New Jersey, where Paul Copeland is prosecuting a rape case in which the defendants are privileged young men and the victim a young woman with a shady past.
In spite of his plaintiff’s decidedly unfavorable history, Copeland believes he can make the case to the jury as long as he reveals any damaging facts against his witness ahead of time. Unfortunately, these young men’s wealthy families have the luxury of extraordinary resources and are willing to pull out all the stops to turn the trial in their favor.
Still grieving the recent loss of his wife to cancer and raising his six-year-old daughter with the help of relatives, Copeland (or “Cope”, as he is called by intimates) realizes early on that the wealthy parents are quite serious as they dig into his past and expose facts the prosecutor is still struggling with many years after an unfortunate incident.
Twenty years ago, while he was a counselor, four young people walked into the woods surrounding the camp. Two of the teenagers were later found murdered, the other two never accounted for but assumed buried somewhere in the dark tangle of the woods. One of the victims was Copeland’s seventeen-year-old sister. All of the murders were ascribed to a serial killer convicted of later slayings.
The Russian immigrant family was shattered by the loss; Cope’s mother returned to her homeland, leaving father and son to their own devices. It was only when his father died that Paul began to wonder what secrets had been withheld from him over the years. Suddenly, in the middle of his case and twenty years after the killings, Paul is confronted with a piece of evidence that begins the unraveling of everything he has believed about that terrible night in the woods, including the insinuation that he was somehow involved.
Working desperately to keep his rape case on track, Cope repeatedly returns to the past, hoping for new answers to old questions. With the reappearance of his first love from that fateful summer, Cope thinks maybe he will pull through intact. At the same time, it becomes increasingly clear that great pressure is being exerted on the outcome of the rape case.
Gradually piecing together a picture far different from what he previously believed, Cope is challenged in unexpected ways, his beliefs in those he has known all his life virtually unrecognizable by the time all the facts are revealed. In the end, the young prosecutor faces the loss of affection of close family members in an unsolvable moral conundrum. Even more difficult, he must weigh his ability to forgive with the terrible betrayals of one he loves.
In a narrative beautifully structured, with dramatic unpredictability and a stimulating plot, Coben’s protagonist maintains his integrity against significant odds. Faced with the extent of denial that results from unexpected tragedy, the truth is both shocking and painful. Flayed by each new revelation, Copeland refuses to give up, willing to confront his demons, no matter how painful.