Review: The Woodcutter

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
HarperCollins
$25.99, hardcover, 528 pages
Also available as Ebook ($12.99)
Release date: Aug. 2, 2011

When an early morning police raid meant to uncover evidence of financial fraud also uncovers involvement in child pornography, Sir Wilfred Hadda resists arrest and ends up in a coma for nine months. He awakens to find a rock-solid case against him and divorce proceedings initiated by his wife. Sir Hadda – Wolf to his friends – spends the next seven years in jail while his ex-wife marries his lawyer and denies Wolf any contact with his daughter.

Wolf meets regularly with psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo. At first, he denies the child pornography charges, but after several sessions, Dr. Ozigbo breaks through to her patient and he claims responsibility. Granted an early release, Wolf returns to his childhood home in Cumbria and begins an investigation into what really happened.

The question of Wolf’s guilt isn’t fully answered until near the end of Reginald Hill’s latest pageturner The Woodcutter. And the answers involve a shadowy government agency, personal betrayals, hidden motives and lots and lots of secrets.

Hill begins the novel with a quote from The Count of Monte Cristo, which should clue readers about the levels of deception from all sides. Three quick scenes follow, each depicting a different time and what appear to be turning points for the nameless characters. The scenes are riveting but quickly forgotten as the main novel picks up speed. Hill returns to the opening later, and clever readers will pick out connections.

Once in prison, the novel focuses solely on the cat-and-mouse game between Wolf and Alva. Wolf provides Alva with written pieces of his backstory until he achieves a breakthrough and ends what Alva sees as self-denial.

Upon Wolf’s release, the novel switches gears. Characters viewed only through his prison writings take their own turn center stage. McLucky, the policeman who guarded Wolf in the hospital, is now a private investigator Wolf hires to look into the crimes. A Russian mobster who fancies Imogen, Wolf’s ex-wife, becomes a tool for Wolf to use. Imogen and her monied family have their own secrets to hide.

The novel changes from a psychological thriller to a hardboiled crime story, with all the high and low points of the genre. Alva discovers she’s sexually attracted to Wolf, despite believing he’s a pedophile. Coincidences make for convenient plot points. The final plot twist delivered by Imogen seems to come out of nowhere and isn’t necessary.

But the overall writing is well done, and Hill takes his time setting up the final unraveling of the mysteries. Every character serves a purpose and moves Wolf closer to not only finding his answers but to revenge.

Hill knows how to create a complicated plot that doesn’t lose the reader’s interest. Even readers who figure out the mystery before the end will want to keep reading to see how all the seemingly disparate pieces fit together and how Wolf and Alva handle the answers they uncover.

The Woodcutter isn’t a book that will change your life or open your eyes to a truth about the human condition. It is, however, an entertaining mystery that you won’t be sorry you spent time with.

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