The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher
Published by Chicken House on January 7th, 2014
Shelve It: Goodreads
Ashlee Parker is dead, and Emily Shepherd’s dad is accused of the crime. A former soldier suffering from PTSD, he emerges from the woods carrying the girl’s broken body. “Gone,” he says, then retreats into silence.
What really happened that wild night? Emily knows in her bones that her father is innocent — isn’t he? Before he’s convicted, she’s got to find out the truth. Does Damon Hilary, Ashlee’s charismatic boyfriend, have the answers? Or is he only playing games with her — the kinds of games that can kill?
Intensely atmospheric, The Killing Woods was nothing short of completely spell-binding. With a carefully paced plot, I found myself thoroughly engaged from the first few pages. While I struggled to connect with the characters and I found the ultimate revelation rather disappointing, overall I really enjoyed The Killing Woods as it took me on a suspenseful and thrilling read!
Paced to perfection, The Killing Woods strategically dropped gems of information, which seemed scattered and chaotic while reading, but which came together by the end in a way that I found insanely suspenseful. I particularly liked how Christopher used Damon’s hazy memories to mislead us into believing one thing, while simultaneously building up how the actual events transpired. I loved how the pieces of information that Damon “remembered” were trickled throughout The Killing Woods, and how Christopher used the dual PoV to further muddle any details Damon discovered by having Emily uncover something seemingly opposite or contradicting. And while I found the ultimate explanation to the Game to be significantly less sinister than I had imagined, the intrigue and apparent danger of the Game was still satisfying and served to further the mysteriousness surrounding Ashlee’s murder.
Despite enjoying the dual PoV for what it did for The Killing Wood’s plot and the pacing, I struggled to connect with either Emily or Damon. I found myself increasingly annoyed by their narratives, since so much of both of their PoVs consisted of questions to themselves. It definitely didn’t help that many of the questions Emily asked herself were about Damon, a person she barely knew, and whether it was possible that he was lying to her.
But I have no idea what to believe anymore. Has Damon been keeping secrets this whole time? Deep, dark secrets? Is he not who I’d thought at all?
Considering the sum of Emily and Damon’s interactions prior to Ashlee’s murder could be summed up in one sentence, I couldn’t understand why she would be surprised to find out he wasn’t wholly truthful with her, or that he might have secrets of his own that he was hoping wouldn’t be brought to light. But I think I was most annoyed by how this questioning narrative continued, even while they were finally uncovering some answers; I was ready to uncover the truth, and instead, Damon would take a few moments to question what the evidence in front of him might mean.
I also had a hard time figuring out Joe, what his relationship with Emily meant, and his purpose in The Killing Woods. It seemed like Joe was used as a prop, as someone who would show up to further complicate a situation in order to create suspense, only to disappear for large chunks of time. Considering Emily and Joe had been friends since childhood, I was often confused about why she was so quick to dismiss him and his concerns. Rather than trusting her supposed best friend, who warned her about how dangerous Damon truly was, she chose to believe in Damon’s innocence. I just couldn’t figure out why a girl who spent so much time thinking about trust, and how often people lie, was unable to extend that same logic to Damon and Ashlee; why she was unable to trust Joe, considering he had never given her a reason to believe him to be untrustworthy.
Fortunately, much like the outback in Stolen, Darkwood was a character on its own, and its characterization was brilliant. What could have been an ordinary forest, Christopher transformed into a living and breathing being. When Emily was feeling particularly fearful, Darkwood was sinister in its intentions, hoping to turn her around so she lost herself among its dark foliage. But when she needed something familiar and safe, Darkwood was there to comfort and provide her with solace. While The Killing Woods is very much a murder-mystery thriller, because of how sentient Darkwood felt, I kept waiting for a paranormal or fantasy element to make itself known.
While I was ultimately disappointed by the rather lacklustre conclusion to an otherwise adrenaline pumping murder-mystery, and though I felt like the romantic elements were unnecessary, I really appreciated how every loose end was tied. There’s also something to be said about the simplicity of the ending: it was absolute perfection.