Cold Woods - Karen Katchur

There’s nothing like a short, creepy prologue to whet your appetite for what’s to come. One line sums it up nicely: “He had it coming”.


The story follows the relationships between a group of women in 2 time lines, one in the present & one from 30 years ago. It’s clear they share a huge secret stemming from traumatic events. When a body is found in present day, that past comes roaring back & forces them to remember what they’d sworn to forget. The thing is, not everyone’s memories are the same.


Parker Reed is a detective in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. After the fallout from his last case, he’s in the department dog house. So when a human skull is found near the Appalachian Trail, he’s the lucky guy assigned to freeze his butt off while forensic crews do their stuff. At least it gives him a chance to bond with new partner Geena Brassard. In some ways she’s the department’s other outcast. Her crimes? Too smart & too attractive. *sigh* The nerve of some women.


It’s a sparsely populated area where everyone knows your business. So it’s not long before they identify the remains. Lester Haines was a surly drunk who disappeared 30 years ago. Public opinion was he simply walked away from his wife & stepdaughter. Apparently it was a short walk.


Three decades ago Trisha Haines left town in a hurry. That’s no surprise in itself. It’s one of those places you either never leave or never come back to. She cut all ties with her mother & friends Danni & Carlyn. Now she has no choice but to return. Danni’s mother has died & a funeral is the perfect opportunity to remind her old friends to keep their mouths shut about the body.


That’s it, no more yakking about the plot. Best to let you draw your own conclusions as both time lines unfold. I loved the historical side of the story. Trisha, Danni & Carlyn are typical teens dealing with all the usual issues brought on by high school drama & raging hormones. Two of them live with single moms. Danni’s mother has given up & never leaves the house & Carlyn’s works the night shift, leaving her to raise herself.


Only Trisha has a father figure in her life. Her real dad left when she was a baby & her mother soon remarried. Sadly, she’s an alcoholic who is unaware of what’s happening in her own home. Which brings us to Lester. Drunk, despicable Lester. Most of this side of the story is alluded to, leaving the reader to imagine the worst. But the effect on those involved is very well portrayed.


As we follow the 3 families through these years. I was struck by a couple of things. First, with the exception of Parker, few men in this story come off very well. Second, the women are a wonder. Each of them suffers with poverty & abuse or abandonment. But there’s a resilience, the ability to make do with the hand they’re dealt & support each other as best they can. There’s an ominous undertone that builds as these chapters progress. We know Lester is going to meet his maker. The question is who & how.


The present day time line also has an edge but most comes from a separate subplot. I fared less well with this side of the story. Meeting all the characters decades later reveals some long held secrets as they deal with the police. But there’s a middle section where the story, like the investigation, slows down & not much happens. At one point we get some info about Trisha’s real father & how he shaped her current life but I wanted more detail as it had huge significance (trying not to give too much away here).


As they reach for the end, both story lines will have you guessing. Some of mine were spot on, some weren’t even in the same time zone. But when it’s all said & done you might find yourself thinking back to that line from the prologue & agreeing.