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"What Lies in the Woods" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

“What Lies in the Woods” is an engrossing mystery thriller that you won’t soon forget. Three preteen girls, best friends since kindergarten, spend hours playing in the woods near their homes in the declining lumber town in the northwestern part of the country.

When the young girls find a skeleton tucked into an opening in a boulder, they choose to keep their discovery a secret. The skeleton is wearing a bracelet on her wrist with the name Persephone. The girls decide to honor it as their own personal goddess. They love their secret game and feel it seals an anticipated lifelong friendship.

While in the woods, one of the three girls, Naomi, is attacked with a knife and left for dead. The girls’ screams alert a local hunter who is shocked when two of the girls rush from the woods. The police are called. With the help of the police chief, the surviving children, Liv and Cass, identify the suspect through a photograph. Upon awakening after surgery, Naomi confirms the identity of Alan Stahl, a man allegedly responsible for the deaths of several other women in the state. He is sentenced to life in prison.

Years pass. Naomi, her face visibly scared from the attack, is a wedding photographer. Cass, with the help of her family, has rehabilitated a lodge near her small town. Liv, an artist, has never escaped the nightmares of the attack nor the guilt of the girls’ choice to conceal the discovery of the skeleton.

When Stahl dies in prison, the girls reconvene to celebrate Stahl’s death. They recall how they were able to complete six of their seven planned rituals to Persephone. Liv still believes they will never be free from the spell of Persephone until the seventh ritual is carried out.

When Naomi begins reliving the past trauma with her friends, she remembers more about the stabbing and the events surrounding it. At the same time, she receives a letter from Stahl’s now-grown son, insisting that his father wasn’t the one who attacked Naomi. With the help of a podcaster, in town to review the crime, she uncovers the identity of “Persephone.” She learns that many of the townspeople knew the victim. Several had reason enough to want her gone. Shedding light on her identity would ruin many lives.

As shocking pieces of the crime puzzle and the stabbing come to light, readers will perceive clues to the identity of the person who attempted to murder Naomi and to the killer of Persephone. All the guesses will be wrong. Nothing prepares the reader for the twists and turns of the mystery or for the unveiling of the seventh ritual.

“What Lies in the Woods” is a true page-turner for fans of the mystery thriller genre. Filled with subplots and apprehension, this is a novel you won’t put down until the end, and one that will stay with you.

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