Lies Behind the Woods, by Bradley Cornish

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Bradley Cornish for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Turning to a crime thriller that mixes in the emotional fallout of a kidnapping, Bradley Cornish presents the reader with a book they will not likely soon forget. Steve Breiten is a history professor who enjoys his time away in the Adirondacks. During one of his vacations, he witnesses what he thinks might be a kidnapping, with an out of control vehicle speeding through an intersection and a woman’s foot sticking out the passenger window. It is not until he sees an article about a missing woman, Tara Murphy, that Steve decides to go to the authorities. His description, paired with some new traffic camera technology, helps to nab the kidnapper, John Dexter. Three years later, Tara shows up at Steve’s office and wants to thank him. Having never formally met the woman and feeling slightly awkward, Steve agrees to a lunch to see if they can swap stories before sending Tara on her way. However, Tara has other ideas, having travelled far and wanting to thank Steve for all he’s done. Rebuffing her sexual advances, Steve is pulled into memories of some other events around the time of the kidnapping, including a detailed sexual encounter with someone in the DA’s office and an equally detailed fantasy about Tara’s mother. Now, Steve is learning a little more about Tara’s ordeal and how she feels that she must fulfil a personal fantasy of her own to ‘cleanse’ her from the brutal rape and treatment she suffered at the hands of her kidnapper. Steve finds that Tara’s plan includes drugging him, which takes things to a new level. News that Dexter escaped from prison hits the police wire, creating panic for those involved in the case three years before. Steve wakes to learn that Tara and Dexter are in cahoots and that their plan includes taking Steve and others deep into the woods, where new and equally disturbing truths await them. John Dexter has a colony that is almost fully functional and needs new members to help it expand. There is more to it than that, something that will rock Steve to his core as he learns the truth about himself and a past that differs really from what he grew up understanding. While the plot development might not be something I would pick up to read on most occasions, Bradley Cornish writes in such a way that it is easily digested. Recommended to those who want a thriller with a peppering of flashbacks to fill in the gaps, as well as the reader who needs some steamy writing to keep them on the edge of their seats.

I’d never read anything by Bradley Cornish before receiving this ARC, but the dust-jacket blurb had me quite curious. As I mentioned above, there were some odd moments throughout, particularly the overly detailed descriptions of Steve’s passionate encounters, though these were somewhat balanced by some interesting plot developments and discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. Steve Breiten is an interesting protagonist, a late 20s history professor with a past of romantic disappointments. In a ‘right place, right time’, Steve is able to act as a hero and save a young woman from almost certain death, though I am sure he would have preferred the quiet of his time at the cabin. He is surely hungering for physical interaction, though I am not sure he thought that being a good Samaritan would help add notches to his bedpost. He appears to struggle throughout with events three years in the past, though he faces them head-on and with as much dignity as he can. Revelations in the latter portion of the book offer a new and needed depth to round out Steve’s character. Others who help fill the pages of this story bring their own perspectives to the piece. The development of various abuse scenarios and some Stockholm Syndrome play into the backstory and development of numerous characters, enriching the story a little more. The premise was nothing earth shattering, but proved to be highly entertaining, even if there are sexual landmines for the reader to dodge throughout. I am no prude, but am also not entirely sure what purpose they served in such detail. WIth short chapters and good plot development, Cornish proves that he is an author worth reading again, especially if he can keep the narrative flow working in his favour. The story reads with ease and the writing is easy to digest, perfect for a summer vacation or to fill the hours during travel.

Kudos, Mr. Cornish, for a decent piece. I may have to check out your other book, which you conveniently plugged within the narrative.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: