Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: The Girl in the Woods by David Jack Bell

The Girl in the Woods By David Jack Bell
339 pages $16.95
Delirium books

Summer 2008 I read and reviewed David Jack Bell's debut novel The Condemned. I liked it a lot, I said it was like “a highly literate take on an Italian Post Apocalypse movie.” That to me is very high praise. I loved The condemned and thought that it was like an engine firing on all it's pistons. Very effective novel that transcended the tropes it was built upon. More than just a post-apoc novel, more than a zombie novel, while still being firmly in both those genres.

So when I read that Bell's sophomore effort was a traditional gothic horror novel I was sold. GITW tells the story of a small Ohio town that has many dark secrets. Diana Greene has never been the same since her sister disappeared. She has strange visions of clearing in the woods. She believes the answer is there but she can never find it.

The novel's darkest and most terrifying moments come from the the other story-line following Roger – a serial abductor who is driven by voices he hears calling to him from a seemingly haunted clearing in the woods on his vast property. Roger does want to commit murder or necrophilia for that matter but the clearing calls to him.

Is this the most original concept for a horror novel? Maybe not but it's traditional elements are like power cords in a ramones or AC DC song. If your looking for the kind of traditional horror novel that flew off the shelf in the 80's look no further. I think the average horror reader will love this book, my main problems with GITW come from my knowledge as horror writer myself.

It's hard for me to divorce my critical eye from a few of the simple mistakes along the way I think Bell made. Events in this novel seem to fall into place on behalf of the plot. The introduction of one character, a professor who studies local mythology happens with a information dump that seems to come out of no where. The character plays a strong role later in the novel, but his introduction is a bit goofy. Reminds me of a scene in the Wes Craven made for TV movie Summer of Fear, when Linda Blair is introduced to the “neighborhood occult expert” just in time to explain what is happening.

Bell did a great job with the dread and suspense through the majority of this novel, and that is why I found it jarring and hard to take when he missed obvious moments of suspense. There are chapters written in Roger's point of view after he has kidnapped a college student, that should have been written from the student's POV. From her perspective there was more fear and emotion for the reader to live through. The chapter where she is abducted is from her point of view and that was the right choice.

My biggest problem with the GITW is that bell induced a fascinating concept in the cult behind the clearing, with it there was potential to explore the deep seated and patriarchal roots of the murder of and domination of the women in the novel. This concept was hinted at but not explored.

Without a spoiler let me point out, that there are several moments and chapters (like twenty-five) that are very effective, I don't want to be to hard on this novel, just honest. David Jack Bell is an exciting writer, what I like is his willingness to play the power cords in the horror genre and give them his own unique touch. It is creepy and disturbing, horror devotees do not want to miss this. I am excited to see what he has next for us!

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