The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben. (Grand Central Publishing, 2020)
A feral child, a missing teenage girl, and a wise-cracking, sharp-tongued television criminal attorney, and her teenage grandson, Matthew, are the central characters of Harlan Coben’s newest best-seller, The Boy from the Woods. They, along with other characters in the novel, make for a fun and unpredictable read.
An article in the North Jersey Gazette published on April 18, 1986, revealed the following news:
Westville, N.J. - In one of the most bizarre cases in recent history a wild-haired young boy, estimated to be between six and eight years old was discovered living on his own in the Ramapo Mountain State Forest near the suburb of Westville. Even more bizarre, authorities have no idea who the boy is.
So, the article in the Gazette, announces the first mystery in Coben’s novel. Who is the feral boy, and how did he survive in the woods alone? How long had he survived without food, shelter, and warm clothing? And, why had his parents failed to file a missing person’s report with the police?
The second mystery of the book is revealed when another teenager, Matthew Crimstein, visits his grandmother, Hester Crimstein, on the set of her show, something that he almost never does. Matthew has come to enlist his grandmother’s help in locating a missing girl, Naomi Pine. Hester coaxes a confession from Matthew as to why he has taken on the responsibility to find Naomi, who had been bullied, badgered, and beaten by almost every student in. Matthew admits that while he did not usually engage in the nastiness perpetrated on Naomi by their classmates, he failed to stop the latest cruel prank, which most likely was the catalyst to Naomi’s disappearance.
Trying to find a solution to Matthew’s query about Naomi, Hester enlists the help of Wilde, the feral boy, now grown into a man. Hester has old ties with the genius that Wilde (the moniker that he had come to be known by) had become. When David, one of Hester’s three sons was about six years old, he and his brothers often played in the nearby forest. The boys played hide and seek, and their father, Ira, had built them a tree fort in which they passed hours.
One day, Hester overhears David talking to someone in the woods. When she questions David as to whom he was speaking with, he answers, “I was just playing with me.” When Hester isn’t satisfied with David’s answer, he comes up with a new idea. “That was my invisible friend,” he admits to his mom.
Of course, when Wilde is finally brought back into society, David confesses that he has been helping Wilde to survive by giving him food and talking to him. When Wilde is discovered, he stays with the Crimstein’s for a while, until he is placed in a wonderful foster home where he flourishes as a student and ends up becoming a cadet at West Point.
Naturally when Hester asks Wilde to investigate Naomi’s disappearance, he readily agrees. He has been a private investigator for some time and has the know how to track down a missing girl.
But then, a second student, Crash Maynard, disappears from his home, establishing a third mystery. Where is Crash? Did he run away with Naomi, despite the fact that he was her number 1 tormentor? Did he have a secret crush on her that he didn’t want anyone else in school to know? Perhaps he has been abducted by Rusty Eggers, a vile man, who is a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Crash’s parents, Dash and Delia, are frantic to find their missing son.
There are other plot threads that Coben weaves into an exciting story that has so many reveals at the end that every paragraph twists something that the reader has thought to be definitive.
Coben’s style is fluid and compelling. The Boy from the Woods, kept me up all night as I was compelled to finish it. Coben is such a masterful story teller, and the characters in this novel are certainly intriguing.
While most of the mysteries in the novel have revelations to them, one huge mystery does not. This fact leads me to believe that we may see Hester and Wilde again in a sequel.
I certainly hope so.