The timing is terrible for Kyle. He is mourning the death of his wife who died in a tragic accident and has descended into a pattern of agoraphobia where leaving his apartment is very difficult. His depression is palatable, and it interferes with his ability to write. He is a bestselling horror novelist and is currently stuck in a desperate case of writer’s block. To top it all off, Kyle sees ghosts, a “gift” he has had since childhood – and this doesn’t help his current frame of mind any. But Eric, Kyle’s younger brother who is a hotshot up-and-coming attorney, convinces Kyle that the family is needed on the Cree reservation. So, the two of them, along with their goth, tattooed, rock band-member sister are off to rural Canada (accompanied by Eric and Shawna’s current love interests).
Once on the reservation and in the nearby village, Kyle realizes things aren’t right. All of the Cree inhabitants have deserted the reservation, except for Kyle’s uncle and grandfather. The villagers are tense. Indian legends about something evil – something monstrous – living in the forest (The Devil’s Woods) seem to be coming true. Kyle is starting to see all kinds of ghosts, and when he touches certain objects in the village or the woods he senses that something horrible has recently occurred. One particularly effective passage has Kyle running his hands over tombstones in a graveyard – tombstones that are not inscribed with names – and hearing the cries and screams of those who are buried in that location. Creepy stuff.
The first half of the book is rather deliberate in pacing. There are hints of the terrors to come, but much emphasis is placed on location and character development. Kyle is nicely portrayed – he is a very broken and haunted hero. Eric is a narcissistic shithead, and Mr. Moreland makes it easy to start disliking the guy. Shawna, the young sister, starts out like she might just be window dressing – a goof-off character. But, she blossoms into a full flesh and blood person who plays a critical role in the narrative. Likewise, her goth boyfriend, Zack, is a nice complement to the story. Finally, there is Jessica, the med student who is in a relationship with Eric. She is a little too “golden” to have fallen for a jerk like Eric. But, Mr. Moreland has something else in mind when she and still-grieving Kyle start exchanging more than just admiring glances.
Midway through the novel, the tempo changes. The last half shifts into maximum overdrive as the true nature of what is actually happening in The Devil’s Woods comes to light. There are numerous plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and the action keeps accelerating to the point where you wonder how much longer the author can keep this up. Just when you think he can’t do it anymore, something more bizarre than what had just happens occurs. The effect is like a roller coaster that doesn’t quit. I don’t want to give any plot lines away, but suffice it to say there are ghosts, demons, monsters, foreign mercenaries, secret passageways, subterranean caves, weird religious ceremonies, weird sexual trysts, explosions, and heaven only knows what else I am forgetting.
You would think an author might lose control of the story given all this stuff going on. But, Mr. Moreland manages the entire thing with aplomb because he has spent the time developing his characters and he does such a fine job setting up the location. You can see this village quite clearly. And, the woods and caves are so well described that they come alive with the characters. The other reason that the novel works so well is that Mr. Moreland has such an unsettling and devilish imagination. He has concocted an incredible storyline that will leave you gasping for breath.
The Devil’s Woods is truly a thrilling read.