The Woods by Harlan Coben

December 7, 2009

the woods Plot summary (with spoilers): Thirty-something Paul Copeland is an Essex County prosecutor with a history of heartache. He recently lost his wife to cancer, and 20 years before that, his sister disappeared along with three others from the summer camp where they worked together and was presumed to be the victim of serial killer Wayne Steubens, aka the Summer Slasher. Camille Copeland’s body was never found, which devastated Paul’s family. His parents’ marriage deteriorated to the point where his mother simply up and left, while his father spent numerous nights digging in the woods with the vain hope of finding some sign of Camille.

Paul thought the tragedy was behind him, but one day he gets a jolt when a couple of New York detectives question him about a murder victim who had Paul’s business card in his pocket. The vic’s name was Manolo Santiago, but that doesn’t ring a bell with Paul. It’s not until he sees the man that he realizes who it is: Gil Perez, one of the other teens presumed to have been killed by Wayne Steubens. This gets Paul thinking: if Gil had been alive all these years, was it possible that Camille managed to escape as well?

Paul starts looking into the case with the help of investigator Loren Muse. It hurts to dig up the past, especially one involving the disappearance and possible murders of teenagers. But Paul cannot let it go, and eventually uncovers the answers to many long-dormant questions.

A couple other subplots are set against this backdrop, including a rape case involving a couple of rich white frat boys and a black stripper (ahem, Duke rape case, anyone?) and an embezzlement charge against Paul’s brother-in-law — both of which are more or less dropped midstream once they serve their plot device purposes.


  • It’s really hard to pick out something I liked from this book, because so much of it seemed like stuff I’d read before — probably in Coben’s previous works. I guess if I had to pick something it would be that Lucy and Paul didn’t end up together in the end. That would have been way too perfect an ending.


  • I hated the rape case because it seemed like just a plot contrivance to bring certain background details to the forefront. For example, we learned a lot of Paul’s family history based on the “dirt” that Jenrette dug up as part of the smear campaign. Everything about the case seemed so ridiculously contrived, especially the stupid “Cal” and “Jim” name game. God, I rolled my eyes every time that crap came up.
  • The plot was unnecessarily convoluted the entire way through. Four kids disappeared from camp, but two managed to escape and BOTH hid the fact from authorities? One of the “dead” kids surfaces 20 years later and Copeland immediately recognizes him and assumes his sister is alive? So it was the serial killer who disposed of the other two kids, but the deaths weren’t as straightforward as originally thought? So Paul’s father killed his mother because she was pissed that he turned her parents in when he was a member of the KGB and he learned that she was going to try to take the daughter and run? WTF????
  • So Paul’s sister can just reenter society and start living with him and Cara after being away for 20 years? What about all the fraud considerations and other potential broken laws? Did she just continue using a fake identity? How would Paul explain her presence to nosy neighbors?
  • I thought Jenrette’s investigator’s involvement was far too convenient. She just happened to be around to lure Manolo Santiago into a few fancy Manhattan Hotels to learn more about the old case? And then she knew exactly how to “play” Copeland when he came around asking questions? Again, just too much of a convenient plot device here.
  • Paul hated how Jenrette tried to use his money and position to get his boy off the rape charge. But Paul himself had no qualms about lying to cover up his brother-in-law’s embezzlement scheme? Double-standard much?
  • None of the characters were likable in this book. Coben even made the six-year-old incredibly bratty. As a result, I didn’t care about what happened to them and actually hoped things wouldn’t work out. That’s no way to “enjoy” a book.


The Woods by Harlan Coben suffers from being too ambitious in its attempts to create a complicated thriller. The result is a mess of coincidences and one of the most unrealistic plots I’ve ever come across in this genre. I think I’ll stick to Coben’s Myron Bolitar books and skip his other crap. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “The Woods by Harlan Coben”

  1. Guys don’t Listen to anything this person says. This book was great! He recognized him right away because if your sister died wouldn’t her boyfriends who also died face stick in her head plus he talks about remembering the scar on his arm because he was afraid to hit it while playing basketball an it was right where he remembered. Also it makes him think his sisters alive because his sister was with him when they went into the woods so if he got out his sister could of to and he does say he has his doubts until he gets a hint that she is from the boyfriends sister. Maybe i was confusing to you because you don’t have a brain. Like to see you write a book.

  2. It was a great book!

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