Book Review: Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong

April 17, 2020 Book Reviews 0

Book Review: Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong
Genres: Thriller
Published by Minotaur Books on February 5, 2019
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: the library

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Also by this author: Omens, Wild Justice, Sea of Shadows, Visions, The Masked Truth, City of the Lost, Forest of Ruin, Betrayals, A Darkness Absolute, Indigo, Rituals, The Unquiet Past, This Fallen Prey, Stolen, Rough Justice, Dime Store Magic, Industrial Magic, Haunted, Broken, Dark Screams: Volume Nine, No Humans Involved,, Waking the Witch, Portents, Missing, Alone in the Wild, Otherworld Secrets, Wherever She Goes

Fourth in the Rockton/Casey Duncan thriller series and revolving around a homicide detective who fled to the secret town of Rockton in the Yukon nine months ago.

My Take

I guess I hadn’t really picked up on Casey’s ethnic appearance, and Armstrong makes sure I know about it now. Casey has more of her mother’s Filipino-Chinese looks while April looks more like their Scottish father. It was a serious issue for Casey when she was younger, never being as “good” as her sister, in so many ways, all of which we learn from that first person protagonist point-of-view from Casey’s perspective.

It’s definitely a good look at how children have such differing perspectives when growing up in the same household. I was surprised to find out this past year how one of my sisters viewed our childhood. So different from my own view. As for Casey…I’m glad she’s come to terms and has accepted who she is. Everyone is valuable.

It’s too bad Casey’s parents didn’t understand that, only valuing in others what they themselves were. Expecting only their ideal of the perfect child. Thinking that IQ conveys some sort of status on a person. Yeah, it’s in Watcher in the Woods that we learn what April’s problem is and having a high IQ is no help.

Most of the time I don’t notice that Armstrong uses present tense. The times I do notice, it rubs me wrong. Another thing that rubs me wrong is “her estranged sister, in town for just the weekend”. It makes April sound like a casual visitor instead of the doctor urgently needed to give Kenny a chance to survive whom they’re sneaking in. Then again, that comment from Mathias cracked me up, about Raoul not minding that April isn’t a vet. Makes me sound disrespectful of this necessary doctor…oops…

It’s nice to see the effect that Casey is having on Dalton and vice versa. I’m also laughing at Mathias’ attitude about canine socialization. *snicker* I do like Mathias’ character. He’s scary and with an intriguing attitude. More laughter came with Diana’s reaction to Casey telling her that her alibi stood. I mean, really, it would be so Diana to throw others to the metaphorical wolves. April, on the other hand, has asked for assistance from Kenny. Who’d’ve thought she’d be that interested in knowing where she’s screwing up socially.

I have to wonder about that marshal. Why wouldn’t he have a warrant on him? I did crack up at Casey’s and Dalton’s “attack” on that marshal. Calling him out on his “rhetoric”, lololol. If you enjoy any kind of cop story, you’ll be cracking up too.

That jail cell sure does have a lot of rotating “residents”. It’s a police force that I can imagine cops would love: no reports to write! Dalton can make up his own laws — and the penalty he sticks Roy with is a pip! Yep, the law is also the judge, jury, and executioner, so to speak. Their punishment jobs are emptying the portable toilets and chopping wood.

Rockton also incorporates a very practical recycling program. Of course, it does help that their location restricts a lot of impractical wastage and their town set-up encourages this recycling method. Definitely something we could do at home.

Ooh, baby, Val sure did make a lot of people angry, and Phil is reaping the “benefit” of that anger. Although…Phil may be handy after all. He knows something about accounting and is already trimming the fat…as well as understanding that the residents need their luxuries. Other benefits include Eric learning about his real parents. Oh, man. We also learn more about Gene Dalton kidnapping that nine-year-old Eric. Seems extortion and self-interest were the orders of the day. More comes out about the early Rockton and how the board has changed over the years. Sad with the board’s mix of the idealists and the investors with their too-capitalistic perspectives.

Artie sure feels the need to present himself as a victim. What am I saying? Almost every one of the criminals presents themselves as a victim. Those “victims” at the end were a treat for me.

Sebastian is another conflict for me. He’s so worried and desperate to experience a “normal” life that he pays almost everything he has left to come to Rockton for a few years. Now that’s sad. Yeah, I know what he did was reprehensible, but ya gotta remember he was 11.

Red herrings abound from the marshal’s gun to that fall into the crevice while running from wolves to Paul’s suicide attempt to the misidentification of the bullet to Roy’s idiot antics. The biggest distraction of all however was April! Oh, man. Oh man. I can’t believe it. April confesses, and we find out quite a bit about Miss Perfect. Oops, I should say Dr Perfect. Future stories should be fascinating!

One of the series arcs is the slowly rising distrust of the council. Mathias is one example in his naive presumption that the council would pass his concerns about the mental health of various residents on to Eric. Petra is another who has been learning the truth about the council. All because this town operates on need-to-know, and the council believes that no one really needs to know that much. It certainly leads to some interesting situations and contributes to that growing unease the residents have about the council and whether they have their best interests at heart.

We do learn Abbygail’s past history that brought her to Rockton. Phew. I do find the lack of consistency interesting. If the council is so all-fired up about making money, then how do people like Abbygail get accepted? Why would Amy O’Keefe need to go to such extremes? What about the others who truly are victims and don’t have the money to pay for a stay? Sebastian’s story is, um, interesting as well. Both of ’em. The fake and the real. He trips himself up with his passion for school and what he doesn’t know about stealing cars.

Ohh, Dalton is so sweet. Casey thinks Eric is trying to bribe her, and Eric explains these gifts. And it makes such sense, enough that Casey accepts his reasoning, *grin*.

It’s also a town where man’s most basic urges come out. It’s damn sad, too. And, yeah, bullying is one of those urges. Mathias’ assessment of the bullying in Kenny’s and Jen’s backgrounds was quite interesting.

I noticed one reader coming down on Watcher in the Woods because she didn’t think it was a real thriller. Considering that a “thriller” puts a world in danger with the villain known early on, I’d say this story succeeds quite well.

The Story

It’s not possible. No one from the outside can know about Rockton. Yet a US Marshal has shown up, demanding one of its residents. And Casey is sneaking her doctor sister in to help Kenny.

This makes two threats against the anonymity promised by Rockton. Nothing and no one can tell the world about its residents.

The town trusts Casey and Eric. They don’t trust the council.

The Characters

Deputy Casey Duncan “Butler” had been a homicide detective in Canada. Now she’s one-third of Rockton’s law enforcement. The book-loving, thirty-one-year-old Eric Dalton has been the sheriff for the past five years and is now Casey’s lover. Storm is their eight-month-old Newfoundland whom Casey is training up as a tracking dog. Seems Aunt Becca‘s boyfriend had had a similar dog, Nana. Thirteen years ago, Casey shot and killed her last boyfriend: the drug-dealing Blaine Saratori.

April is her estranged older sister, a brilliant, if cold, neurosurgeon/neuroscientist who works in Vancouver, Canada. Their doctor parents died in a small-plane crash.

Dalton’s birth parents were twenty-first century pioneers who chose to live off the land: Amy O’Keefe had been a master’s student fleeing the attentions of her thesis advisor, and Steven Mulligan had been a cop who’d tried to expose corruption in his police force, ending up on the wrong side of some very dangerous people. Jacob is Dalton’s brother who continues to live off the land and whose illiteracy drives Eric nuts. Gene Dalton had been the sheriff of Rockton; he and his wife had lost a child shortly before they arrived.

Tyrone “Ty” Cypher was a hit man in the outside world before he came to Rockton and became its sheriff. Ty’s retired now to live off the land.

US Marshal Mark Garcia, out of the Spokane office, is looking for “Pat”.

Rockton is…
…a wilderness town of 200 that doesn’t exist, for people who need to disappear — criminals and victims. Residents are here for two years, a maximum of five. No spouses. No children allowed. Kenny, a former high school math teacher and now the town carpenter who is also head of the militia, was badly injured in This Fallen Prey, 3.

Will Anders is the rest of the police force, a deputy with a love for caving who’s teetering on the brink of alcoholism. He had been a medic for a short while in the army. He’s “spying” on Dalton for the council. Dr Mathias Atelier is the town butcher; he had been a psychiatrist specializing in psychopaths and sociopaths. Raoul is the wolf-dog puppy. Other residents include Sam, Nicole “Nicki”, the bitchy Jen, Artie is one of those who has problems knowing how to properly address people, Mindy is one of Isabel’s girls and also works in the kitchens, and Ronald is Mathias’ neighbor who has loud, bad sex. Isabel is a former psychologist who runs the Rock, one of two local bars. It’s also the town brothel. Brian and Devon work in the bakery and are Storm’s new babysitters. Roy McDonald is the jerk of a new guy always agitating to join the militia.

Diana, a former accountant, is the bitchy resident and betraying “friend” of Casey’s who’s the reason for Casey ending up in Rockton. Now she sews for credits. Sebastian “Bastian Fowler” Usher is the newest and youngest resident who works all over town as general labor. Paul gets scared and tries for suicide. Cindy was the social activist with whom Paul fell in love.

Petra, a former comic-book artist, had been Casey’s best friend in Rockton. Until that betrayal in This Fallen Prey when Petra shot Oliver Brady, the serial killer Dalton and Casey were escorting out of town. “Mike” is the man Petra married…and divorced, sharing custody of their daughter, Polly.

Abbygail Kemp was the victim who pulled Casey in, in City of the Lost. Beth Lowry had been the town doctor in City of the Lost, 1.

The council…
…runs Rockton. Says who comes or goes. The self-isolating mathematically inclined Val Zapata had been the council on-scene rep, but she was shot in This Fallen Prey. Phil, their former radio contact on the outside, becomes the new in-town rep. Poor boy. Émilie is Petra’s grandmother and on the board.

The First Settlement is…
…what happened when the idealism that founded Rockton dried up and turned to capitalism.

The hostiles are…
…those who left Rockton and reverted to a primitive, tribal form. Nasty people. Maryanne, a former university professor with a PhD in biology, is/was one of them. She seems to be coming back from that brink. The rest of them…they’re watching Rockton. They’re waiting.

Dawson City is…
…one of two towns that Dalton heads to for supplies; Whitehorse is the other. Lydia is the pilot’s partner.

The Cover and Title

The cover is spooky with its hidden allée of black, bare-branched trees in a foggy morning. All the text is in white, from the info blurb set an inch below the top to the title taking up a good third of the cover. The series information is tiny below that with the author’s name…about an inch above the bottom.

The title is an unknown — desperately unwanted — Watcher in the Woods.

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