Full disclaimer here: Buster CJ Berg provided me with a copy of his book “The Man in the Woods” in order for me to review. However, this does not affect my rating in any way, shape or form. With that being said, let me be brutally honest here and tell you that I have very mixed feelings towards this book.
There are certain things I liked, certain things I loved, but there were also elements to the book that I disliked very much. I will tackle this in more detail down below. For now, let me say that the book starts with a slow opening, and uses a lot of time establishing the characters and scenery. Once the main part of the story starts, however, the book turns very dark very quickly but still captures the reader in an instant.
This also is something that I didn’t particularly like about the book. It turns from quite benign to disgustingly gory and vile in so little time that the reader has too little time to adjust which threw me off a lot.
This book is not my favourite horror story but why not give this one a try, if you are a fan of gory horror?
I will rate this book a 6,5/10. While it is not the greatest tale of horror I have ever read, it certainly is not the worst. A strong effort, with good storytelling as well as
relatable characters try to make up for some of the books’ shortcomings.
Buster CJ Berg is a Finnish writer with a background in film and television. Berg began by writing and illustrating comics in his early childhood, only to eventually pursue a career in media
production. For most of his life, Berg has been obsessed with a need to explore the more macabre and sinister aspects of storytelling and character.
Date of release: 13.01.2019
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I already alluded to the fact that there is a lot to tackle with this book and I will do so in my review here. But first, let me give you an outline of the books’ story.
There is Kevin Phizer, he is a teenager that has had a hard time growing up, with his mom dying early and his dad being a substance abuser (just like Kevin himself). He’s got two friends: Amanda and Mallick, who are a couple. There is a lot of stuff going on that has no real impact on the story, but the main plot starts when Kevin convinces his two friends to go camping with him. Earlier, Kevin met a homeless person, who promised him money, if he helps him with a heist. The trip goes south quickly, as Kevin leaves his two friends for good and meets up with the homeless man, who is in fact the owner of the house he wanted to rob with Kevin. Fast forward, and all three teens die, brutally mauled by the owner’s dog.
Let’s leave it at that and dive deeper into the book. As I mentioned, I have very mixed feelings about it, but I would like to start and highlight the positives, what I liked about the book.
First of all, I loved the way Buster created the tension in and around this mysterious white house. While the beginning was rather slow and calm, it all increased once Mallick and Amanda arrived at the white house and met their soon-to-be murderer. Mallick knew that something was up, and the reader was constantly reminded of that. It created a great contrast between what actually happened. Dave who seemed to be a genuinely nice guy even flirted with Amanda, while Mallick was afraid and wanted to leave at once. The whole situation made me feel very tense and nervous, which is the type of horror I absolutely love.
I think, the supreme way to generate suspension, horror even, is through this type of storytelling. You want to set the mood according to what you want the readers to feel. Buster does this very well in this last portion of the book and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Unfortunately, this was all nullified when he let the book take such a dark turn. It turns out that Dave is actually a serial killer, who skins his victims and watches how they die. This is incredibly brutal and vile to imagine, and it ruined the ending for me. I mentioned in several other reviews already that I do not particularly enjoy gore-heavy horror literature. Just because a book is so convulsive, and revolting does not make it a great tale of horror. Maybe it works in a film but in literature, it simply doesn’t do it for me.
Another thing I want to focus on is the time spent on establishing the characters. The actual camping (which, according to the blurb, is supposed to be the main “event”) does not take place until around page 60, which is almost in the middle of the book.
Buster wanted to make sure that we can identify with the characters. Therefore, they have to be authentic and relatable. While he does a good job at that (at least for Mallick and Amanda, who both seem very believable), I felt like it took too much time. We spent a lot of time following the three protagonists going about their daily business. This is also where several side stories are started (Amanda has AIDS, Mallick is secretly homosexual but does not have the courage to tell so publicly) but they peter out as they are not being followed anymore.
This came across quite strange. For me it was like the author threw some more pieces of information into our faces just to make the characters more likable but ended up doing nothing with those secondary plotlines.
Maybe, if we spent a little less time getting to know the characters, we could dive into the action earlier, or Buster could spend more time building an atmosphere of fear.
To me the main storyline was completely fine. It was pretty straight forward put still kept the reader on the edge. For long I did not really know what was going to happen to either Kevin or Mallick and Amanda. Also, the kind of plot twist that Dave is actually the man in the woods, was something I just did not except, for whatever reason. It caught me off-guard and it made for a nice moment of realization. The way Amanda slowly discovered what Dave (or Milo) was really up to, was so well done, it had me all tensed up, waiting for something to happen.
Yet, I felt that the ending was a little bit rushed. The whole backstory about Milo was fed to us in very little time. Also, the very ending where Milo is killed, while it felt coherent and made sense, it still happened way too fast. Everything took place on only ten pages, which is very little. I would not have minded the book being slightly longer but giving the reader a more satisfying ending.
Since the book was self-published (if I remember correctly), I must say that it was very well edited, with little errors in syntax as well as grammar. Mistakes in orthography tend to distract me, which was not the case here, at all.
Lastly, one more word of criticism, sorry. I felt like there was way too much cursing going on in the first portion of the book. The whole thing was luckily tuned down in the second half, but it was so distracting having everyone curse constantly. For me, it made it harder to identify with the protagonists.
And finally, for my recommendation. While The Man in the Woods is certainly not a bad book, it is not the greatest either. If you want to and do not mind the gore, then you might very well give this one a shot. However, I do not really know who this book is aimed at. For teens, I feel like it is too gory and too brutal. Especially, when considering that this would be people their age, being slaughtered. On the other hand, I think adults or generally older people will find it harder to relate to these characters on a level that allows them to fully immerse in the book. It would be best if you decide for yourself!