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The Boy from the Woods


The Boy from the Woods

Coming off the success of his top-rated and bingeworthy HBO series, "The Stranger," Harlan Coben returns to the printed page with a stand-alone novel that may feature the most unique character he has ever created.

The North Jersey Gazette, dated April 18, 1986, has an article with the headline “ABANDONED 'WILD BOY' FOUND IN THE WOODS,” which goes on to refer to the child as a “real-life Mowgli.” Most readers probably will claim that they remember hearing about accounts like this, whether real or fictionalized. This does not make THE BOY FROM THE WOODS any less intriguing; in fact, most of us would want to know the particulars of the story. In an extremely clever move, Coben stays away from the backstory to his wildly interesting prologue and jumps directly to current times, where we meet this “Wild Boy” in very different circumstances.

There are many complex characters here, but I was immediately drawn to Hester Crimstein. A long-time criminal attorney, Hester hosts a popular TV show where she gets to use her salty and unfiltered language style to verbally tear down most of her guests. We experience part of an episode, and it will have you smirking, if not laughing out loud. Then, as we begin to get acquainted with the other characters, we learn of the relationship that they all have with each other.

"THE BOY FROM THE WOODS is a one-sit read. The characters and plotlines are so well drawn out that it is easy to find yourself caught up inside them."

It turns out that Hester was the first foster mother to that boy found in the woods so long ago. He is now a highly intelligent man who goes by the name of Wilde. We also are introduced to Hester's grandchild, Matthew, a normally even-keeled teen who lately seems to be brooding over something. Matthew confides in Hester that he is worried about his classmate, Naomi Pine. Somewhat of an oddball who is often picked on by the more popular kids, Naomi has suddenly disappeared from school. Her track record shows that she comes from a broken family and has run away from home before. However, Hester is sharp enough to know that there are other parts of Matthew's story he is not telling her that makes him fear this is no mere runaway incident.

In addition to relaying all of this to her favorite town sheriff, Oren, Hester reaches out to the one person who has the best chance of finding out more information and locating Naomi --- Wilde. Not only did he survive for years on his own in the woods, he spent time in the military as part of a Special Forces team. It's no coincidence that he lives a solitary existence in a cabin deep in the woods away from most of mankind. This will not keep him from answering Hester's call, and he finds the opportunity to look into Matthew's concerns about Naomi a challenge that he is more than up to tackling.

Wilde finds a trail that leads to the wealthy, popular kids and a dangerous game of Challenge they are playing with each other. Matthew has found his way into this circle, and Wilde actually has to save him from a party at the home of one of his classmates. The boy is named Crash, the son of TV producer Dash Maynard, and Wilde must get by heavy security at the Maynards’ mansion to rescue Matthew. As Wilde gets more information from Matthew, he figures out where Naomi is and finds her in the most logical place --- the basement of her father's home. She knows who he is and is not afraid of him, even saying that she considers him to be her “Boo Radley” in this scenario. Wilde is pleased to have located her, but has the feeling that she did not really want to be found and that there is something larger at play.

Wilde's instincts are correct. Not only does Naomi go missing again, another teen also disappears. This time, it's a full-on kidnapping as a ransom note appears for Crash. Many think that he ran away with Naomi in some sick popular-kid-takes-off-with-homely-girl tale. Others believe that he may be pulling the stunt himself to fleece his parents of money. Those in the know, like Hester and Wilde, realize that something else is at hand. What makes this different from a standard kidnapping is that the abductors are not asking for money. Instead, they want some videotapes that could be quite damaging sent to them in their entirety. Dash has a reputation of filming everyone he has ever been involved with for one of his TV productions, and it is apparent that one of these tapings is worth killing his son over. From here, things get really dangerous very quickly, and there is a much larger story at stake.

I won't give anything more away, but can firmly attest to the fact that THE BOY FROM THE WOODS is a one-sit read. The characters and plotlines are so well drawn out that it is easy to find yourself caught up inside them. At a time when we need a good story to take our minds off of the outside world, you cannot do much better than this thriller. I only hope that this is not the last we see of Wilde, as there is still so much to learn about his past and how he survived as a child in the woods so many years ago.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 20, 2020

The Boy from the Woods
by Harlan Coben

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538748207
  • ISBN-13: 9781538748206