Thursday, January 8, 2015

In the Heart of the Dark Wood by Billy Coffey

Coffey's books have that haunting sense of magical realism, where the spiritual intersects the natural. Such is the case with this one.

It has been two years since the devastating storm hit Mattingly and twelve year old Allie lost her mother, Mary, swept away by tornado winds. Allie has focused her thoughts on the plastic nativity set in their yard and particularly on the figure of Mary. One morning, after a gusty night, the Mary figure is gone. When Allie's carnival prize wrist compass starts working again, Allie believes her mother is calling her. She enlists the help of her friend Zach. Along with Sam the dog, the three head into the dark woods, following the compass, finding Mary.

What follows is an adventure in the spiritual invading the natural as Allie and Zach do battle with a dark beast and their own inner selves.

While the first two novels about Mattingly grabbed me, this one was harder for me to read. I thought the opening scenes when Allie begins to menstruate were just odd. I realize this is part of the “coming of age” aspect of the novel but, as a woman, I just did not feel good about this part of the novel.

An aspect of the novel I found limiting was the emphasis on two characters. Allie and Zach are kids and there is only so much character development that can be framed within the experiences the two had. The setting of being in the wild limited the outer influences upon them. Having them come across an old mountain man could have added variety to their growth experiences.

And that leads to another area. I felt the book was just too long and repetitious. After a while I had to push myself to continue reading. I got tired of yet another near death experience. I almost felt like Coffey was aiming for quantity of words rather than quality. I did not find many memorable sentences like I did in his previous books.

The novel is an interesting representation of good and evil and would generate good discussion. Does God use evil and disaster to direct us to where He wants us to go? Why does God have sharp edges?

A good novel, just not his best.

Billy Coffey has written four novels. Find out more at

Thomas Nelson, 378 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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