Book Review: No Woods So Dark as These by Randall Silvis

In the fourth book in the Ryan DeMarco mystery series, Randall Silvis reminds us that there are good reasons to fear the dark...

As I reread the review I wrote for book three in this series, I was struck by the commonalities it shared with book four. No Woods So Dark as These has indeed all the signs and qualities of another masterpiece by Randall Silvis. And yet no two of his books are alike.

The very first chapter grabbed my attention with its beauty and vivid detail:

A light vapor of fog hung in the air between the trees, a subtle graying discernible only when the man looked out one of the pickup truck’s windows but not when he glanced at his sons sitting beside him in the cab. By noon the fog would lift, revealing woods full of leaves startlingly golden and red and orange, but those colors were muted now, the leaves heavy with moisture that dripped onto the truck’s windshield and plunked onto the metal roof like a stutter of typing from a slow-thinking writer.

Considering the woods and the surrounding nature, DeMarco says, “So much beauty, so much pain” (Chapter 63), which is actually a good summary of the book. Like in this opening scene, woods can be a nurturing place for a loving family, or a place of refuge for children growing up in far from the best of environments, or even a place of terrible evil. In this book, woods are all of the above.

It is definitely a hymn to nature and its healing impact on wounded hearts. Without them, “You spend your whole life hiding indoors, you’re going to end up with a soul the size of a raisin” (Chapter 1).

Because of things that happened in the previous books in the series (highly recommended to read before this volume), both DeMarco and his colleague Jayme are broken-hearted and in need of healing. They support each other throughout the book, providing each other with the love they need and finding new life where they least expect it. 

And yet, at the very same time, like fog hanging in the air, there’s this Sword of Damocles over them, and the sense of doom permeating every chapter. Will the past catch up with them, just when they are finally learning about the beauty and richness of the present moment?

DeMarco and Jayme reluctantly accept work as volunteer consultants to solve a gruesome case: a man was found nailed to a tree and nearby, two bodies were burnt in a car. On top of it, a young journalist seems to be stalking them, sending bad vibes to DeMarco. And the past never seems to leave our heroes in peace: the psychopath who almost killed them both in the previous book has been seen around, and he regularly leaves them notes.

This is not your usual page-turner: you definitely want to turn the pages, but with dread, because you feel something coming. But at the same time, you want to take time to taste every word; to bask in the ambiance of every scene. Besides the evil and violence stirring below the surface, there is definitely peace and spending as much time as possible with DeMarco and Jayme in their daily life, as they prepare breakfast together or care for their new young companion is a delight.

She wondered why food they cooked together always tasted better than restaurant food or anything she cooked alone. Maybe there was something real to the notion of cooking with love. Maybe love was an additive as real as salt and pepper and the other spices. (Chapter 33)

 

When you and your dog and a couple of birds are the only living things on the planet, it is possible to forget about the evil afoot in the world. Possible to experience an appreciation and even a sympathy for whomever had created this morning. Any being who could sculpt such serenity in such muted colors was truly an artist. (Chapter 40)

Randall Silvis is great at mixing crime and metaphysics. A few passages witness to it in this book, for instance in Chapter 21 (discussion on consciousness), Chapters 103-104, and all the lines containing life lessons. He also has reflections on the art of writing, for example how the author needs to disappear, let go of his ego, and leave the whole space to his characters (Chapter 93).

To really enjoy the slow pace and the dynamic between the characters, you should start with volume one in the series.

And so after four hundred pages of this slow build-up, when you think the book is over, you have this adrenaline-packed Part V, that will keep you totally stunned. I honestly needed two days to recover. With such an ending, needless to stay waiting for the next book will be close to torture.

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