Here’s a question for the animal lovers among us: If you were walking alone in an isolated area and came across someone being cruel to a dog, what would you do? Would you turn away and mind your own business, or would you confront the abuser? This is just the situation that normally easygoing Paul Phillips faces on a crisp fall day in a deserted park. He simply can’t tolerate seeing the defenseless dog suffer. He confronts the owner and tries to reason with him, but tempers soon escalate and the two men begin to fight. Before Paul knows it, he has accidentally beaten the stranger to death and decided, while panic-stricken, not to call the police. Now he has a new dog on his hands and a sickening weight on his conscience. But life must go on.
I read Endless Love by Scott Spencer years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I thought I would give Man in the Woods a try. Once again, Spencer’s skillfully crafted prose and fascinating, slightly off kilter characters swept me away and kept me spellbound until the end. This moody psychological thriller is reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and A Separate Peace by John Knowles, both of which explore the idea of what it’s like to live with a shameful secret. If you enjoyed Man in the Woods, you may also like Aftermath by Brian Shawver, another novel about the long-term effects of violence.