The killing woods by Lucy Christopher

cover image

Chicken House, 2013. ISBN 9781906427726.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Suitable for older teenagers as it contains some explicit content. Psychological thriller. Murder. Mental illness. Drugs. Emily's father suffers from flashbacks to the time when he was a soldier and he is blamed when a young woman is found murdered in the woods. But his daughter Emily is convinced that her father is innocent and is determined to find out the truth. She seeks out Damon, the dead girl's boyfriend but doesn't expect the secrets that she uncovers in the woods.
This is a dark and compelling thriller. Told in two voices by Emily and Damon, it takes the reader through frightening scenarios and into the dangerous game that Damon and his friends played in the woods. Set against the background of the woods, with enormous oak trees and shy deer, Christopher builds up the suspense as Emily and Damon gradually discover just what happened the night that Ashlee died. Although the desire to find out who did murder Ashlee remains at the forefront of the narration, the reader is drawn into the lives of the two main characters, their thoughts and fears, as well as the reactions of their friends around them. Emily is resilient and loyal, and is convinced of her father's innocence. However she is also clear about what is right and wrong and following her conscience. Damon is a less attractive figure, using his power as a prefect for his own ends, but vulnerable since the death of his soldier father and unsure about love. Using alcohol and drugs hasn't helped him cope either and he struggles to remember what happened that night in the woods after he blacks out.
The killing woods is certainly not a book for the faint hearted or for the young teen. Christopher explores the obsession that teenagers have with danger, sex and love and the outcome of the game in the woods is shocking. However the exploration of the themes of the dark side of sex and of collective responsibility is thought provoking and would lead to much discussion about being accountable for one's actions. The writing is beautiful and the pacing impeccable. For mature readers.
Pat Pledger