In The Woman in the Woods (2018), John Connolly uses a technique I’ve encountered in other suspense novels. He constructs an intricate plot with an array of characters and a central mystery. As the novel develops, we begin to encounter chapters that appears to be asides, with nothing much to contribute except for one small but significant detail. As an example, in one chapter, a group of teenage boys are hanging out and drinking on a cliff next to a quarry. One of them is pushing boulders into the lake below the cliff. One large boulder produces a huge splash which causes a sunken car to rise to the surface. In its open trunk, the boys see the body of a woman. Hers is the corpse which other characters in the novel have been looking for. It’s not an especially important point in the novel’s plot—many people go missing—but this is just one box in the narrative assemblage to be clicked off. The teenage boys play no other role in the novel.
The prose style of this novel is dense and literary--it reminded me especially of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, whose serial killing murderer has much in common with the killer at the center of The Woman in the Woods.
Some of the characters bear faintly allegorical names. A secondary character is Angel, and the missing woman in the woods is Karis (close to charitas?). The two main characters are clearly representative of good and evil. One is described as partially divine, and the other is a Satan figure. This novel was well constructed, too well constructed, and the fact that it is a crypto Christian/Lovecraftian allegory of good vs. evil eventually made it tiresome. There are “buried gods” and “old gods” and so on, along with a mysterious book with missing pages. When the pages are recovered, the reassembled book will bring about apocalypse. The villain has supernatural powers—he’s lived for centuries. In a book where powers of logic and deduction would seem important, his presence alters the narrative landscape. Since he can do things beyond the powers of any human being, he is a kind of narrative cheat. He may not be human himself. I’d describe the novel as a Cormac McCarthy/C. S. Lewis/Charles Williams mashup.