July 2024

The God of the Woods

By Liz Moore
Review by
Set in the summer of 1975 at a sleepaway camp in upstate New York, Liz Moore’s The God of the Woods is a devilishly clever work full of nerve-shredding suspense.
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The most delicious thing about a mystery like Liz Moore’s spellbinding The God of the Woods is finding out who did it. There’s the thrill of suspecting this character, then suspecting that one a few pages later, then being absolutely sure that the other one did it—only to have your certainty upended when you find out the real culprit. Of course there are red herrings, like the sounds of footsteps in an abandoned slaughterhouse that turn out to be a family of squirrels. (Or were they?)

The story begins in the summer of 1975, at a sleepaway camp in upstate New York operated by the fabulously wealthy Van Laar family. Barbara Van Laar is a camper that year, even though her home’s a short walk from the cabins. Barbara wants to get away from her family, and as you come to know them, you can’t blame her. The only things colder than this lot are possibly freshly dead fish on beds of ice. Then, Barbara goes missing. Fourteen years earlier, her older brother, Bear, also went missing and was never found. Foul play is suspected in both cases.

Though full of nerve-shredding suspense, Moore’s novel is really about families: good families, bad families, birth families and chosen families, rich families and poor families. Living among the frosty Van Laars as a mere ornament has destroyed Barbara’s mother, Alice, in mind and body. Meanwhile, though she is considered an eccentric loner by most people, camp director T.J. Hewitt has a devotion to her blood and chosen kin that is deeper than anyone, including the reader, suspects. And investigator Judyta Luptack’s Polish Catholic family is so conservative that she, a 26-year-old woman who’s making a good living, is scared to move into her own place. Much like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Judy has to put up with condescension and sexism, and there’s even a local serial killer for her to do the quid pro quo business with. But you’ll be turning pages fast enough to forgive the unneeded resemblance. The God of the Woods is a beautifully written, devilishly clever work.

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The God of the Woods

The God of the Woods

By Liz Moore
ISBN 9780593418918

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