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"The God of the Woods," | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

As soon as I started “The God of the Woods,” I was mystified and held captive. Author Liz Moore was immediately in control of my psyche, sending me careening down one dead end after another looking for hints and an answer to who-dun-it. Along the way, I met multiple, rich characters, from young campers, to a trapped wife, to a newbie investigator, their back stories adding to the richness of the narrative.

The book kicks off with a crisis. It’s August, 1975, and Barbara, a camper, disappears from Camp Emerson, a prestigious camp for 12 to 13-year-olds in the Adirondacks. The cabin’s counselor, 23-year-old Louise, along with her counselor-in-training, Annabel, age 17, left the cabin at night once their brood was safely tucked in bed, or so they thought.

Louise had instructed Annabel to be in charge that fateful night. Trauma followed that bad decision. In the woods, Louise’s well-to-do fiancée, John Paul, flew into a jealous rage and started a fight with Lee Towson, because he thought Louise was with him. Later we learn John Paul had previously turned his rage on Louise, beating her in an altercation she kept to herself.

Of all the girls to disappear from Camp Emerson, Louise can’t believe it’s Barbara, the daughter of the Alice and Peter Van Laar. The upper-crust couple lives on the property in land long owned by the Van Laars—the Preserve it’s called. Louise knows all about the family because John Paul’s father is Van Laar’s lawyer.

Part of the Preserve was set aside years before to establish the camp, a mission important to Peter Van Laar’s father who wanted young people to have wilderness experiences.

  One can’t help but wonder how much sadness Alice and Peter Van Laar can handle. In the 1950s, their young son Bear Van Laar, only four, disappeared from the family home, never to be found. The loss of a child who was the light of her life destroyed Alice, mentally she was never the same, not even the birth of her daughter Barbara, some years later, helped her depression, a condition worsened by pills and alcohol. Alice’s history with her husband was bleak too—a cold man who arranged to wed Alice, a mismatch that provided little happiness for the couple.

When Barbara came along, she received little attention from either parent. Instead, she was mothered by T. J. Hewitt, the daughter of the camp’s longtime caretaker. T. J. became the manager of Camp Emerson, running a tight ship while also keeping an eye on Barbara, a goth girl who refused to follow her parents upper crust agenda. In an attempt to set her straight, the Van Laars enroll her in camp.

There are a number of people who could be responsible for Barbara’s disappearance, chief among them a murderer who has escaped from a nearby prison and is believed to be hiding in the woods.

Camp lore abounds about the man known only as Sluiter, a vicious killer who inexperienced officer Judy Luptack soon finds herself investigating as she follows leads to try and unravel the mystery. Police politics complicate this for Luptack—her higher up, Captain LaRochelle, has a personal agenda regarding the case because he was the officer in charge of little Bear Van Laar’s investigation.

Moving back and forward in time, from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, Moore weaves her complicated, yet totally feasible story, casting doubt as she introduces yet another character who could be suspect. “The God of the Woods” is a brilliantly written, smart literary mystery that’s not to be missed.


 

 

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