Review: “Northwoods,” Bill Schweigart

Pros: Pacing; some characters
Cons: Some characters; the very beginning
Rating: 3 out of 5

Northwoods, by Bill Schweigart, introduces us to Davis Holland, who helps to patrol the border between the US and Canada. One night the sensors pick something up, but the usual tools for narrowing down what happened aren’t helping this time. Davis has to go out himself–with the help of the local sheriff, Gil Ramsey. After a blinding flash of white light, something enormous charges past them. Davis finds a clearing with dead bodies and a mysterious, small open chest. The chest calls to him, but he manages to close and latch it and take it with him. The sheriff is bitten by a giggling naked man, but when the two call in the troops, they can’t find anything else. They toss the chest in a nice, secure place, and go about their lives. Well, for a few months, anyway. That’s when things start falling apart, and a handful of people who have a little experience with the paranormal show up to help.

 

This sometimes happens when I get a review book: I find out the hard way that I’m starting in the middle of a series. It’s quite obvious that there’s a previous book in which many of the characters met and nearly died. I thought the bits of information sifted into the text did a decent job giving me enough information to hang on, without ungainly infodumps. That’s a tough line to ride, and the author did it well.

I have a problem or two with the opening ‘event’. The sensors and drones that check the border before Davis gets contacted supposedly can sense all sorts of things (like people), and part of what’s wrong with what’s happening is that although the sensors got tripped, there was no sign of, say, actual people out there. Yet six people somehow end up dead–shouldn’t they have shown up on the monitors? We also never really find out what was going on in this scene or why/how it happened. It would have been nice to at least have some speculation.

Some of the dialogue was really good; there are a few nice quotable bits here and there. Since I’m reading a review copy that might not include last-minute changes I’m not supposed to quote anything in my review. However, I think they’ll let me get away with “higher than a moose’s nutsack”!

Ben and Lindsay are two people who shared a paranormal experience the previous year that has left them both emotionally scarred. A wealthy man, Richard Severance, despite their dislike for him, manages to drag them off to check into reports of a lake monster. They get to know some of the locals, such as Davis, and end up with no choice but to help when everything goes to hell. Before our heroes take off for the great white north, Lindsay’s ex-girlfriend shows up wanting to sleep with her, and at one point Lindsay basically tells her to shut up and take her clothes off or get out (but with more expletives). If this had been said to a woman by a man, we’d be appalled and we’d almost certainly expect him to be a bad guy. But I guess it’s supposed to be okay if a woman says it. I was never able to reconcile myself with Lindsay’s character as a good guy after that. I don’t think that’s what the author had in mind.

Once things take off and events get crazy, I enjoyed this book. The pacing is done well, with plenty of smaller battles and revelations leading up to the great battle. Alex Standingcloud, his father, and a number of fellow tribesmen play a dramatic role in the battle, which takes place partly on a frozen lake–well, one that we hope is frozen enough! Soon they’re fighting both weird, supernatural hyenas and the people they know and love–who seem to have been replaced by giggling, people-eating monsters.

The pacing and battles were the best part of Northwoods. Some of the characters I liked quite a bit; some not so much. It’s one of those books that hooks you in the moment, then develops some cracks when you go back afterward and think about things.

 

NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher.
Expected publication date: February 16, 2016

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