3rd June, 2019

Review: Hunted by Darcy Coates (Black Owl Books)

22-year-old Eileen goes missing while hiking in the remote Ashlough Forest. Five days later, her camera is discovered washed downriver, containing bizarre photos taken after her disappearance.

Chris wants to believe Eileen is still alive. When the police search is abandoned, he and four of his friends create their own search party to scour the mountain range. As they stray further from the hiking trails and the unsettling discoveries mount, they begin to believe they’re not alone in the forest… and that Eileen’s disappearance wasn’t an accident.

By that point, it’s too late to escape.

I read this book as part of a postal horror book club. When I first saw the story's synopsis I wasn't entirely convinced that it would actually qualify as horror as the plot sounded more like a thriller. I still jumped in, leaving any preconceived notions aside, and found that I enjoyed Coates' novel tremendously.

But coming back to my own questioning of the story's genre above I would still argue that Hunted can be read as horror fiction. I only learned later that the author typically writes horror so it is no surprise that she manages to throw in supernatural undertones galore: The moments when the mysterious creature appears in the nightly woods, making a weird scratching noise on the trees that sounds creepily like a scythe... those moments had me on the edge of my seat. I was relatively certain that we were not dealing with some Big Foot like creature here but the ending still managed to surprise me. I honestly didn't see this twist coming and retrospectively asked myself how I didn't figure it out before. The story builds up tension throughout and, if you're like me, you'll find yourself shaking your head, going "Noooooo! Why did you do THAT???" over and over again. Hahahaha.

Some disasters were quite foreseeable but there were also a few instances when I worried for nothing. This was an amazing feat performed by the author as it makes you feel like you're with the characters in the forest because nothing is for certain and anything can or cannot happen at any time. The characters themselves were great, too. I found all of them believable and consistent and the cast presented a good mix of individuals, some of whom had fascinating hidden depths.

What I particularly loved about this book, however, was the brilliant build-up of the setting. The action happens in a forest, but not just any forest, but the ancient primeval woods in which it is easy to get lost within minutes. At times it almost feels like the woods are yet another protagonist in this twisted tale of murder, missing persons and animalistic survival instincts. 

Hunted is a wonderfully fast-paced, captivating read. There is quite a lot of blood and gore involved, however, so it's not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. The story is intense and gripping and, trust me, you will not be able to put it down for long. I will definitely check out the author's other titles and can recommend this one whole-heartedly. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

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