Today I am delighted to share my review of Down To The Woods by M.J. Arlidge. I am a massive fan of the Helen Grace series and I have been desperate to get my hands on a coy of the book so was thrilled when publishers Penguin Michael Joseph approved my Netgalley request and I dove straight in. It feels like far too long since the last book. Before I share my thoughts on this latest offering, here is what the book is all about.
About the Book
THE EIGHTH DI HELEN GRACE THRILLER BY BESTSELLING AUTHOR M. J. ARLIDGE
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.
I am a long term fan of this series and I make no apologies about it. I can’t recall quite why I picked up a copy of the first book, Eeny Meeny, but it was most likely die to the fact it was set in Southampton and I was due to visit there with work. Once I started reading I was hooked, and I powered my way through the book and have devoured every book since. I have waited patiently for this next instalment, still reeling a little from the conclusion to the previous book to be fair, and intrigued to know what would happen to the team next.
They are still recovering from their loss in this book, Helen more than anyone taking the blame on her shoulders for what happened before. Charlie is struggling too, with her young daughter waking constantly due to night terrors which, on top of everything else, is beginning to take its toll. They don’t have long to mope about though as the team are soon called to the scene of a macabre killing. At first they can find no rhyme nor reason how or why the victim was chosen but it is evident that someone has an axe to grind. The investigation takes them down a path literally less travelled, as a merciless killer stalks their prey in the beautiful New Forest, but can they stop them before they can claim more victims?
Well … if you want to find out, you’ll have to read for yourself as I’m not saying. Needless to say this is another high pressure case for Helen and her team, one which Helen tackles with her usual calm and logical approach. I love the way in which the author has crafted the character of Helen Grace. She is a complex and multi-faceted individual, hard nosed at times but with an ultimate level of compassion for her friends and colleagues. It is nice, for once, to see the top brass on her side, with her former mentor in charge of the station, and you see a far more amenable Helen when confronted with Grace Simmons requests and concerns. As ever, there is still a kind of gung-ho side to Helen’s character as her quest for justice out strips her ability to do everything quite by the book, but you wouldn’t have her any other way.
The partnership or even friendship between Helen and DS Charlie Brooks is as strong as ever in this book, and I love watching the pair work together. Charlie is another brilliant character. Not as strong as Helen, but determined, just maybe struggling with balancing home and work this time around, and for good reason. And then there is new kid on the block, DS Joseph Hudson. I’m always curious when a new officer is added into the team. Will they be friend or foe? Well it’s early days with DS Hudson I’d say but I did like him. He’s got an edge and he’s going to make Helen’;s life rather interesting I’d say.
If anything, I’d say that in spite of the subject matter, this book didn’t feel quite as punchy as previous books. Pacing felt slower somehow and I don’t know quite why. Perhaps it was due to the reflection over what happened in the last book which took the characters away from the tension of the case on occasion. The quick shot chapters were there, enticing the reader into just one more before bed, but it just felt a little slower. I have seen a similar premise on a couple of TV shows in the past so perhaps it was the familiarity with what was happening that affected the sense of urgency, but I wasn’t quite as in the moment, certainly far less so than with its predecessor which I couldn’t put down until I was finished.
That said, the writing is as assured as ever and the story line compelling, propelling the reader, and the Detectives to take an unexpected turn part way through. Garanita is back once more, causing her usual mayhem, and love her or loathe her, she certainly keeps things interesting. And the book still drives the heart rate up when it’s needed, creating an edge of your seat showdown which will ensure that fans of the series will not be disappointed. Definitely recommended. Nice to have Helen back.
If you would like your own copy of the book, it is available from Thursday 20th September from the following retailers: