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The Boy From the Woods is a powerful read, a perfect, thrilling distraction that not only keeps you guessing but, ultimately, makes you care. And that’s what sets Harlan Coben apart. Book Review by Robert Wiersema THE BOY FROM THE WOODS by Harlan Coben T here is always something comfort- ing about a new novel from Harlan Coben. Over a career spanning more than a quarter century, the New Jersey native has delivered more than 30 mysteries and thrillers, with more than 70 million copies in print. Many of his novels have been optioned for television and film, both in North America and Europe. The reason for this success is simple: Coben delivers, nearly every time. His new novel, The Boy From the Woods , is a sterling example of just how effective Coben’s writing is. The Boy From the Woods begins with a prem- ise that will hook readers from even a brief description: In 1986, “a wild-haired young boy, estimated to be between six and eight years old” is found in a state forest in New Jersey. “Even more bizarre, authorities have no idea who the boy is or how long he had been there.” For many writers, that premise would be enough for an entire novel: a feral child is recovered from the wilderness with no memory of how he came to be there, who his parents are, or how he survived. For Coben, though, that’s just the beginning. The Boy From theWoods actually begins more than 30 years after the boy’s discovery. Now known as Wilde, the boy is grown up and living in a “micro smart house or off-the-grid eco-abode or compact mobile home, what- ever you wanted to call it” in the woods near Westville where he was found. He’s a genius, largely self-taught, and served in the mil- itary in a classified capacity. As a result, he’s a natural choice to investigate when Naomi Pine, a classmate of his godson Matthew, disappears. Naomi has been subject to a lifetime of bullying, and a rough home life; most people think she’s run away. Matthew, though, knows better. Even this premise, though, is only part of the story; one of Coben’s great gifts as a writer is his skill in keeping the reader off-balance, shifting the parameters of a given story in directions which seem unexpected but are, ultimately, totally natural. As a result, the pacing of the novel is breakneck, with the twists and turns of the central mysteries keeping the reader turning the pages. Coben’s other great strength as a writer is his attention to the development of his characters. While Wilde is the focal point of the novel, Coben doesn’t stint on the other characters, including a crusading lawyer turned tele- vision icon, a television producer and his wife, the widow of Wilde’s best friend (who is also Matthew’s mother), and a right-wing television star – who owes his success to the producer and his wife – who is running for president. It would be easy – and forgivable – for any or all of these characters to be flat or caricatures; Coben’s attention to each of them creates a rich panorama of humanity, of real people. This creates genuine stakes for all of the characters, and lends the novel a gravity which it might otherwise lack. 52 | www. snowbirds .org