Review: “In the Woods,” Merry Jones

Pros: Good mystery
Cons: Tonal confusion
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher Severn House via NetGalley.
Expected publication early 2015

 

Harper Jennings and her husband, Hank, are having a camping vacation out in the woods. A little peace and quiet, maybe a few soil and water samples out of habit for Hank, and that’s supposed to be it. Everyone seems to stumble through their camp, however. A pair of young men with mysterious burns. A woman who’s looking for her husband. A semi-mythological Bog Man intent on scaring them away. An explosive goes off in the distance, and soon the woods are swarming with media, law enforcement officers, and idiotic tourists. It seems there’s a group of locals who’ve had enough of their town getting poisoned through fracking and similar ventures, and they’re ready to rebel–in force.

 

Merry Jones’s In the Woods: A Harper Jennings Mystery is an odd combination of wacky and… not. Harper and Hank seem to have a somewhat unstable relationship. Harper goes into ptsd-caused flashbacks, but sometimes they feel a bit forced, or out of place in tone. Then there’s the ‘Bog Man’, who seems alternately played for laughs and serious scares.

There’s more than one mystery to be solved. There’s the explosion that took out an old and disused hunting lodge. There’s the missing husband of another visitor/hunter, and her ex-husband with his new wife as suspect. There’s the appearance of the Bog Man himself–Harper saw him, and Hank seems to think it’s just part of her ptsd. I’ll give them this: Hank’s helpfulness yet his tendency to leap to blame anything odd that Harper says or does on her ptsd/flashbacks is… well, realistic, if painful to see.

At some point there was a bit of a summation of all the things that have happened to Hank and Harper, presumably across earlier books in the series. All wrapped up baldly in one piece made the events look ridiculously overblown–there were so many things both of them had gone through that it felt unbelievable.

There’s a mystery for a while of the identity of the man leading the local militia that wants to rise up against outsiders; it felt like it was supposed to be harder to figure out than it was. The woman, Angela, who can’t find her new husband, seems crazy–there’s just the question of whether she’s nuts or crazy like a fox. Either way she’s a hugely annoying character that scraped across my nerves like chalk on a chalkboard. I get why she was behaving like that, but I seriously could have done with less of her character.

The whole thing had a weird balance of wacky shenanigans and serious things like ptsd flashbacks that didn’t jive in tone. As often happens with reviewing books I ended up reading this out of order–only this time the book doesn’t make me want to go find earlier books in the series.

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