The Wilderness Retreat (2023) by Jennifer Moore

Bella’s life is about to take a major turn, as her son is leaving home to go to university. After years of having such a close relationship, the idea of being alone terrifies her. To distract her, Bella’s sister and son have conspired to send her on a week-long trip to Sweden, on a, for want of a better phrase, Wilderness Retreat. The lodge is modern and comfortable – but the forest outside, Dead Man’s Forest, is far from it.

As soon as the guests’ mobile phones are collected, strange things start to happen. Is it coincidence that the special guest on the retreat is literally the last person Bella would want to see? Why are some of the guests receiving mysterious messages? And who is scratching on the walls? And when one guest disappears, it soon becomes clear exactly what sort of nightmare Bella has stumbled into…

There’s a school of crime writing from way back when that is referred to as HIBK – Had I But Known – which mostly involves a young woman wandering blindly into a situation that starts escalating and, is she had but known, she wouldn’t have gone anywhere near. That’s the closest thing from the classic mystery genre that I’d compare The Wilderness Retreat to. It’s hard to call it a murder mystery as it takes an absolute age for a body to turn up – not as bad as Tragedy At Law, mind you – and even then, it’s one of the least important threads of the book.

It’s an interesting book, although the subgenre isn’t really my cup of tea. It’s well-written, focussing entirely on Bella’s point of view, but while some would call it absorbing, they are probably more patient than me, as I was hoping for an earlier interface between the fan and the excrement, if you understand my meaning.

At the end of the day, it’s a good reveal at the end (although not exactly the “big twist” that was promised) and an odd choice for the villain to signpost their identity in one of the messages to Bella, only for Bella to misinterpret it. Was she supposed to get it at that point? Wouldn’t that have derailed the later plans?

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the genre, this is a good entry that’s worth a look.

The Wilderness Retreat is out in paperback and ebook from HQ on 22nd February 2023.

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