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The Woodcutter    by Reginald Hill order for
by Reginald Hill
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Reginald Hill, well known for his superb Dalziel and Pascoe mystery series, now brings readers a brilliant new standalone thriller, The Woodcutter. It's a cross between a John le Carré novel and The Count of Monte Cristo, enhanced by key images from a Grimms Brothers fairytale - woodcutter and wolf, fairy princess and fairy godfather.

Hill begins by showing a spymaster learning a childhood lesson on grim necessity. Then we see a teen runaway being recruited to join the Chapel. When later the boy is disillusioned and wants out, he's offered his 'heart's desire.' The story fast forwards to imprisoned sex offender Wolf Hadda offering his story to prison psychiatrist Alva 'Elf' Ozigbo. He begins, 'Once upon a time I was living happily ever after.'

It quickly becomes clear that multimillionaire Sir Wilfrid Hadda was framed, but it was bad luck and his own short fuse that landed him in prison for seven years, deserted by his wife Imogen and their close friends (one of whom Imogen married). After an early escape attempt, Wolf was hit by a bus and left in a coma for nine months, one-eyed, disfigured and lame. Now, Alva believes he is in denial and wants to help him accept his guilt - when he eventually owns up to it, she helps him win parole.

The reader soon sees there is a great deal more going on behind the scenes than shows on the surface, including Alva's appointment to Wolf's prison. Once released (both his father and his daughter dead in the interim), Wolf returns to his isolated family farm, his only contacts local vicar Luke Hollins, his parole officer, and Alva (to whom Luke writes after he finds a suspicious amount of cash in Wolf's room). Wolf has as companion Sneck, a stray dog he adopted.

Wolf hires a PI, Scottish ex-cop Davy McLucky, who was his guard in hospital and showed him sympathy. His plans for revenge move forward, slowly and steadily, as do his relationships with Luke, McLucky and Alva (even after she realizes that Wolf played her) - but there are other, dangerous actors in the mix, with their own agendas. Suspense builds to a final, violent confrontation and a shocking revelation, after which all that's left is to 'wait and hope'.

On the front cover, The Times says 'Hill is wonderful.' I enthusiastically concur. The Woodcutter is the best thriller I've read in a very long time, highly recommended!!

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