In the Forest of Harm
By Sallie Bissell
Paperback, 367 pages
2001, Bantam Books
Mary Crow and her friends Alex and Joan are taking a long weekend in the mountains of North Carolina, near where Mary grew up. Mary is a young prosecutor in Georgia and after a particularly popular trial she’s hoping to escape into the wilderness with her friends, and also confront her haunted past. Along the way they run into more than just wildlife – they are pursued by a deranged hunter who gets a thrill from hunting humans and a man obsessed with getting revenge on Mary. “[The women] will be pushed to the limits of their endurance – and beyond – as they discover their own chilling capacity for loyalty and violence.”
…………………….yep. Review done!
Just kidding, I have more to say than that. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fantasy nut, so for the most part the thriller/crime genres are uncharted waters for me. (Apologies if I ever miss-categorize a book, I’m not good at that either). But after reading Into The Darkest Corner and discussing it with a friend on Instagram, she recommended Bissell’s book to me – something a little less traumatic, but no less scary, especially for a female reader.
+ Side note + This isn’t to say I’ve never been creeped out by books in another genre before, however, as someone who mostly reads fantasy, the events or situations that creep me out aren’t likely to actually happen to me. Re: being kidnapped by a wizard or eaten by a dragon. But reading about physical or mental abuse against women in a modern setting does scare me and make me uncomfortable, because who can say it couldn’t happen to me?
So I could tell from the title (and my discussion on Instagram) that this wasn’t a romance novel. I knew bad things were going to happen to Mary and company, so from page one I had this little cloud hanging over my head. The real “action” didn’t start until about 140 pages in, but Bissell built up the scenario from the very beginning, so it was like slow torture (this is a compliment). Once the first attack started, I could hardly put the book down. Actually, that’s not true – after the first attack, I put the book down for a few hours, simply because I was afraid of what was going to happen and almost didn’t want to read the book. But Bissell’s writing is good and I wanted to read the book, so I put on my big girl pants and kept reading.
I’m not sorry I did. The pacing in the book was excellent – kept me on my toes and squirming. It didn’t affect me the way Darkest Corner did, but I was uncomfortable, excited and scared – I kept darting ahead a few sentences trying to see if the women would be okay. I was totally invested in the story and couldn’t wait to get to the end, just praying that Mary and her friends would survive.
Bissell’s descriptions of the mountains made me feel like I was there with her characters – it’s clear she’s familiar with the area, but I didn’t feel bogged down by too many details. Her descriptions of the violent scenes were well written too – I felt uncomfortable, scared for the women, mad this was happening – but she never went too far. I find sometimes that writers can go overboard – I don’t need to know about the tearing of each muscle, etc. Please, let me leave some of those details out.
What I didn’t like:
I was worried Mary’s friends would be little more than accessories to her story, but that wasn’t the case at all. They were fleshed out with their own personalities and experiences. In fact, Mary was maybe a little more wooden than I expected. She went through a lot of trauma and I think maybe she would have felt more realistic if she’d had a bit of a breakdown. This is really a minor flaw – I still enjoyed Mary’s strength, determination and resilience.
My other nitpick would be Bissell’s reference to Mary’s past with her ex, Jonathan. The writing was a little flowery now and then and it threw me off. An example of their lovemaking: “The second time she figures out to rise and meet him and together they ride away on a velvet horse of their own invention.” Again, a minor issue.
If you’re into thriller/crime novels, or you’re looking to get into them, this could be a great place to start. It does have some explicit scenes, but I never felt that Bissell went overboard. It’s not gory, and as I said, once the action picked up, I hardly put the book down. It’s so hard for me to prioritize the books I want to read next, but I’ll definitely be continuing on with the Mary Crow books – can’t wait to get my hands on book two!