The Woods by Vanessa Savage

Posted On 23 January 2020

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TheWoodsWell, this was a twisted little number that worked very well for me. A mystery at its core it’s all about the tangled webs we weave particularly when families become overly involved in each other’s lives.  A psychological thriller that makes for compulsive reading, made even more gripping by the unreliable narrator who keeps taking you round in ever decreasing circles as you go through the mill suspecting everyone of wrongdoing.

The story starts with an introduction to Tess.  Tess lives in the city and is a teacher at secondary level.  She’s not totally happy with her life choices, or enjoying her job, in fact she’s been in a spot of bother with one particular student before we even make her acquaintance.  Then she receives a phone call and her life spirals from slightly dull and a little bit miserable to fear, apprehension and overnight hallucinations.  Tess hasn’t been home for a good number of years but her step mom is dying and her father has called her to ask her to come back.  She doesn’t relish the idea and in fact as soon as she starts thinking of home she begins to experience nightmares and apparitions.

Tess had a sister, Bella.  Bella was the beautiful sister, enigmatic, full of personality – at least in Tess’s eyes – whilst she was the ugly duckling living in the shadows.  In spite of that the two of them shared a close sisterly relationship although their closeness was starting to fracture as Bella began to enjoy a little more danger.  Boys, alcohol, late nights and other escapades that shy Tess didn’t want to become involved with.  Then, one evening Tess and Bella went for a late night excursion into the local woods and only one sister survived.

I really liked the way this begins.  Everything feels fairly balanced in the opening pages yet as soon as Tess receives her phone call her life almost immediately takes a nosedive. She finds herself in deep trouble at work and there’s little choice for her other than to return home for her step mother’s last days.  But, more than that, she starts to see her sister, not just in dreams either, but on a fairly regular basis and Bella is trying to tell her something.

Tess seems to go from bad to worse quite quickly.  She’s not sleeping properly, she’s having terrible dreams when she does sleep and she even seems to be sleep walking. Her nerves are a bunch of frayed ends and to make matters worse she’s not the only one to return home.

When Bella was still alive the local ‘haunted house’, sat deep in the woods, was bought by a good looking couple who had two incredibly handsome teenage boys who immediately became the heartthrobs of this sleepy little village.  Trouble followed on fleet feet.  Jealousies, crushes, secrets and lies, in fact as the past is gradually laid bare it’s difficult to believe just how complex all the relationships involved really were.

The focus is on three families primarily and their interactions and past indiscretions are gradually revealed. At the same time, it seems that there was a killer on the loose all those years ago. A number of girls went missing, their bodies eventually found and speculation ran amok – that being said, Bella’s death was deemed a tragic accident.  I really do have to hand it to the author for stunning me with the depth of intrigue and deceit.  She manages to put everyone into the frame in fact I had a great time jumping around from suspect to suspect like a headless chicken as red herrings flew thick and fast.

The really winning element for me though was Tess and the way she spirals almost out of control.  She’s more jumpy than frog soup in fact I think her suspicions jumped about almost, if not more, than my own.  And she’s her own worst enemy really.  She snaps at people, makes accusations and just takes silly risks that eventually make her a person of interest to the police – especially after  – well, I can’t really say other than ‘the plot thickens’.  Like a theatregoer at a Christmas production of Cinderella, I just wanted to scream at her – for goodness sake, have a good night’s sleep and get things into perspective.

On top of this all the revelations gradually show the characters in a different light so that you can never truly trust what you’ve already heard about them.  Was Bella the beautiful and good sister or was she the village troublemaker.  The family who move in, are they really as good as they seem?  Even Bella’s father and step mom – they all have things that paint them in darker tones.

I enjoyed the setting too.  Mostly we find ourselves in the woods with all the rustling trees, snapping branches and, of course, the long since abandoned house in the woods that everyone seems to be drawn to like flies to honey – or vinegar.

In terms of criticisms. Nothing much really.  I think that this could have been tightened a little.  I found myself, only momentarily, experiencing a brief feeling of repetitiveness – but, like I said, this was only a glancing thought.

Overall this is a very good, gripping in fact, psychological thriller. It had plenty of tension and the mystery was intriguing to read about, the history of the protagonist and her friends and family was revealed layer by layer until the core of the story was laid bare – then the author pulled the curtains on her big reveal.  To an extent, in the cold light of day, it seemed obvious, in fact I’d guessed the culprit along the way – that is, of course I had, I suspected everyone along the way, sometimes more than once so obviously I was going to hit on the answer even if it wasn’t my final thought and I’d moved onto someone else.  Basically, this novel is deceptive right to the end.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4*



11 Responses to “The Woods by Vanessa Savage”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Ooh, this one is new to me, and seriously, why haven’t I heard of this before, it sounds awesome! Mystery and psychological thriller is so much my thing right now, and this looks like one I need in my life – unreliable narrators, creepy house…gonna add this one to the list.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked the fact that the narrator seemed to spiral, you could see her getting into trouble and wanted to shout at her.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    This sounds like it has a lot of tension! I do love stories that involve sisters in some way, and I’ll have to keep this in mind when I’m in the mood for a spooky mystery😁

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was well handled with lots of red herrings and some darker moments.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Barb @ Booker T's Farm

    Glad to see such a positive review as I really want to read this one. Great review.

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This story gives me strong “Pinborough vibes”, which means I find it enormously intriguing and very, very promising. Thank you so much for sharing! 👍👍

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I suppose it does have Pinsborough vibes – i hadn’t really picked that up.
      Lynn 😀

  5. waytoofantasy

    Sounds like a pretty engaging read, glad you enjoyed this one!

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