Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge reviewed

Down to the Woods
Helen Grace
M J Arlidge
Penguin UK - Michael Joseph
September 20, 2018

There is a sickness in the forest. First, it was the wild horses. Now it's innocent men and women, hunted down and murdered by a faceless figure. Lost in the darkness, they try to flee, they try to hide. In desperation, they call out for help. But there is no-one to hear their cries here...

DI Helen Grace must face down a new nightmare. The arrow-ridden victims hang from the New Forest's ancient oaks, like pieces of strange fruit. Why are helpless holidaymakers being targeted in peak camping season? And what do their murders signify? Is a psychopath stalking the forest? Is there an occult element to the killings? Could the murders even be an offering to the Forest itself? Helen must walk into the darkness to discover the truth behind her most challenging, most macabre case yet.

Down to the Woods is the eighth in the Helen Grace series by M J Arlidge. I’ve always found DI Grace a good character of real depth. In this book, after a fairly traumatic previous story – see here for the blog, a body is found in the New Forest. The person had been at a campsite the previous night and no one knows what made them leave their tent. As a member of the team died in the course of the previous book there is a new DS who arrives as the case is breaking.

Initially I found this a very typical Helen Grace story. Well paced and tense as usual making for easy reading. It was, and continued to be, a book that was far easier to keep reading than put down. The investigation continues to reveal aspects of the story as time goes by. There are the usual twists and turns, with misdirection and red herrings to be considered.

So far so good I guess. However this time I was not really gripped by the story. I’ve found it hard to pin down just why that is. I think a few factors are involved. The red herrings seemed quite obviously to be just that to me. The new DS didn’t become a character in any meaningful way. Emilia is someone I dislike and I do realise that is supposed to be the case. However, after the events of the last book, she seems to have learnt little and be determined to be even less pleasant. In the end though I think it was the fact that Helen seemed to almost be a minor role compared with the previous books that left me rather dissatisfied.

Down to the Woods was not the best of the series for me. I’m sure followers of Helen Grace will probably find it very readable – I did. I can only hope that the next book will be able to grip me again and that I can once again say this series is one of my favourites. 3.5/5

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review