Body in the Woods

Sarah Lotz

NewCon Press, 116 pages.

Review by Ian Hunter

A couple of years ago I was a juror on the panel that chose the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer. As one of the contenders was Sarah Lotz’s novel The Three, it was a bit of a no-brainer. That is currently being turned into a TV series by the BBC. Her newest book is Body in the Woods, one of four novellas that make up the second wave of NewCon press’ novella series and while the first wave was clearly rooted in the world of science fiction, this second wave, consisting of novellas by Lotz, Simon Clark, Alison Littlewood, and Jay Caselberg, mine a far darker seam.

Right from the off, we are in unsettling territory. On a dark and inhospitable night someone is prowling outside Claire’s house, and she lives in a cottage way off the beaten track. The security light keeps going on and off and there is a crunch of stones in the drive. Whoever they are, they aren’t trying to be subtle. Who could it be and what are their intentions? With only her rescue dog for company, since her husband, Iain, is working abroad, she has no choice but to confront the intruder. It turns out to be someone she knows: Dean, a charismatic old friend, who has driven a long way to see her because he is in trouble, he needs her help disposing of the body wrapped up in plastic in the boot of his car. .Where better than the dense and sprawling woods where Claire lives?

It’s fairly easy getting rid of the body. Claire knows a good spot. She’s got the right vehicle not to get stuck in the mud on the forest trails, the right tools for digging a grave. The physical part goes as well as a spot of impromptu burying can go. But it’s the psychology that’s harder, that will eat her up inside and make her believe she has cursed herself and everything she touches. And who is Dean and what hold does he have over Claire?

Told in first person, Body in the Woods is an almost breathless, stream of consciousness tale of guilt and consequences as Claire struggles to get hold of her feelings and her surroundings as she tries to convert an outbuilding into an Airbnb while living with the fear that the body in the woods will be found, and while that looms large in her mind, other questions vie for her attention such as who did she really help to bury, and can Dean ever be trusted?

Being a novella, “Body in the Woods” is fairly short at 119 pages and is very readable, told over 15 chapters. You could devour it in just over an hour, but that would be a waste. Read it again and take your time, savour every sentence, paragraph, and chapter. This is a masterclass in suspense and dread: Lotz reveals secret after secret, twist after twist as she turns up the tension. In a way I pity Simon Clark, Alison Littlewood and Jay Caselberg, because Body in the Woods is a tough act to follow.