The Boy From The Woods (2020) by Harlan Coben

He was found wandering the New Jersey woods, a child who, despite living wild, could read and write. Nobody knew where he came from, least of all himself. He was named Wilde, he grew up, made good friends and near-family, joined the army and now lives off the grid. But when a girl goes missing, his friend, the criminal attorney Hester Crimstein, contacts him for his help.

No one seems particular concerned, apart from Hester’s grandson, but it seems that something sinister is going on. And when a brief glimpse of hope is shattered when another child disappears, it seems somebody is desperate to find a long-hidden secret – or to expose it…

You might or might not have watched the recent Netflix series, The Stranger. It was rather good, full of good performance and some very tense moments, twisting all over the place. I thought the last episode, where everything had to be tied up, didn’t quite work, in part with the realisation that a number of the plot strands had nearly nothing to do with the main story – you expect red herrings in a mystery, but there seemed to be a lot here.

Anyway, that was based on a book by Harlan Coben. Coben has an important part in my reading history, as he was an author that I was reading in an hiatus of a few years of reading crime fiction in my late twenties. The Myron Bolitar books are a really strong series of American mysteries that I still recall fondly. Since then, however, Coben has concentrated for the most part on standalone thrillers.

But is this standalone? Wilde is an interesting lead, and there are still a number of open questions about him. I’d certainly be interested in reading more about him after this book.

It’s a good twisty thriller, starting with a disappearing girl and spiralling up to involve a possible future president of the USA. The pacing is smart and there’s some clever misdirection without ever resorting to gimmicky tricks like an unreliable narrator. The central characters, Wilde and Crimstein, are well constructed, and I do hope the plan is to see more of them.

The Boy From The Woods is out now from now Penguin.

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