The Darkest Part of the Woods

Have you ever had a sore spot like an aching tooth, an ingrown toenail, or a spot on your arm where you just got a shot? You know, some place that kisses you with a sharp pain if you don't leave well enough alone? What do you do? You touch it, squeeze it, push on it. There you go, a grown-up, intelligent human being with a toothache, and you'll actually bite down hard. When you can't take the pain anymore you let up and wonder at your stupidity. Then, you go and do the same thing again half an hour later.

The Darkest Part of the Woods, by Ramsey Campbell, was a toothache I wouldn't stop biting down on. I don't know how many times I set the book down after an hour of reading, completely bored, totally uninterested... just to pick up the book again the next day.

I kept asking myself, "Why are you doing this to yourself? This gig as a book reviewer has certainly not gotten me the chicks that Michael and Evo promised it would, so why torment yourself like this?" Well, I'll tell you. TOR books published The Darkest Part of the Woods.

I love TOR. TOR puts out a nice chunk of the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror around. When I look at TOR's author list, I get a semi. And, to add sugar to the tea, now that I review for the Dragon Page, TOR sends me free books, and I sure as hell don't want that to stop. With that in mind, I figured it would benefit my cause better to suffer through this wreck and write an honest negative review, to show them that I've read the submission, than not review the book at all, and have TOR think I don't read the books they send me. So, basically, I'm writing this review 'cause I'm a book whore.

The story centers on the Price family, who live in a small English town called Goodmanswood. Lennox Price moved to the village way back when to study what appeared to be a history of mass hallucinations in the village, and found a psychedelic moss that grew on the bark of the trees of Goodmanswood, the mile-square forest the town is named after. The discovery only cost Lennox his sanity.

Lennox's daughter, Heather, runs the library at the local college. Her son Sam works at a science fiction store and hugs trees in his spare time. Heather's American-raised sister, Sylvie, is an adventurer/writer. The mother, Margo, sculpts.

Goodmanswood, the town, has the unique property in that the forest, which is considered bad luck and a place to avoid, is visible from every single window and street in the entire town. Heather looks out her bedroom window. The forest looks scary. Sam drives down the highway, and looks to the forest, and the trees look ominous, and scary. Sylvie returns to visit her sister from the last adventure, and likes to take walks in the woods, which the neighbors don't like at all, cause the woods are scary. Little girls see a scary man walking around in the scary woods.

And the book drones on for three hundred and sixty-four pages. Sylvie and Sam find the journal of an evil magician who created a demon that haunts the scary woods. Sam can't seem to get away from the scary woods. Margo takes scary videos in the scary woods. Sylvie goes missing, and Heather goes out to find her in the scary woods. And, Oh.My.God, what she finds!

Think I'm being a bit monotonous? I'm not. Page after page of the trees reaching up as if trying to block out the sun; of the trees seeming to move closer; of the goddamn trees being really, really, really scary.

I can only think that Campbell was trying to write a horror story that was all about mood, all about building tension slowly, rather than trying to startle or gross-out the reader to scare him. He failed.

This is a horror novel that isn't scary, written about people I couldn't care less for. Sorry, I guess I could have just lead with that and spared you the other six hundred and seventy-one words.

Rating: 1 out of 5

The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
Published by: Tor Books; October 2003
ISBN: 0765307669
Genre: Horror
Author's Webpage:

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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