by Erina Reddan
Publisher: Pantera Press 2023
‘Urgent. Come tomorrow. Can’t wait any longer.’
Charli Trenthan plans to leave her hometown of Stone Lake. But when she receives a cryptic message from a member of the Sanctuary, a conservative closed community nestled in the forest, she is determined to find answers.
A gruesome discovery soon lands Charli in hot water with the police, but how is the Sanctuary connected? As she digs deeper, dark secrets are uncovered and the fight to prove her innocence turns into a fight for her life.
A gripping thriller with a shocking conclusion that will leave you spellbound, Deep in the Forest raises questions about who we trust and why.
by Carol Woeltjes
…life is a twisty, dark affair.
All it took was those six words at the end of the first paragraph and I was hooked. But if that’s not enough to give you a sense of unease the remote, potholed driveway and the close, dark, and dense forest should do the trick.
Deep in the Forest is set in and around Stone Lake, a town in the Victorian highlands that has recently experienced bushfires that destroyed homes, farms, and livelihoods. It’s also the location of the Sanctuary. A closed, religious community that offers drug rehabilitation and a quiet, communal way of life.
Charli, our protagonist, is doing some work for the Sanctuary; creating a book as part of centenary celebrations, but in among the memorabilia is a message she can’t ignore. This message pulls at her grief and drags her down a path of danger rather than the escape she longs for.
There is realism and depth in the depiction of Stone Lake and what glimpses we get of the world behind the Sanctuary’s walls, but that’s not a surprise. Erina Reddan, a Walkley Award winning journalist, grew up in an isolated Catholic farming community with what she describes as cult-like elements.
Reddan’s use of imagery not only develops the characters and setting but allows them to effortlessly add to the unease the reader feels; sounds that echo in cavernous spaces; a stray dog that wheezes like a chain-smoker; an overhanging canopy of eucalyptus that dapples the light and the far-off sound of wild dogs on the prowl.
Reddan uses the intimacy and isolation of the setting to slowly develop the characters. As each layer is revealed, we learn more about what came before and why the town has turned its back on Charli. We also see the impact this has had on Charli and witness the witch-hunt like behaviour that builds as the story progresses.
At times, I found myself questioning Charli’s reliability, wondering if there wasn’t something to the rumours. But Charli’s flaws and tendency to physically experience her emotions makes it hard to turn away from her. The doubt and Charli’s instability only adds to the tension, which builds and builds until I had to put the book down and breathe for a moment. Something was about to happen, but I cared too much for Charli to allow it to. Of course, I did keep going, the need-to-know was overpowering.
The climax for Deep in the Forest is propulsive and devastating. The characters, particularly Charli, show themselves to be deep and broken. The town with its palpable tension and need for blame is believable and the horror at the centre of it all so lonely and raw. This is a wonderfully claustrophobic, doom riddled thriller that I would highly recommend.