If there is anything I've learned from a lifetime of watching films, it's that very few good things take place in the woods. From being stalked by the Blair Witch to attacked by blood-drinking Druids to running into the Jersey Devil, bad things happen in forests. The deeper you venture into those dark woods, the worse the dangers become, till the very trees themselves turn against you and try to suck your life force from you...that was a British film. The point is, you don't have to be named Hansel or Gretel to come to no good end when ancient/forbidden/cursed/haunted woods are involved. And it's not merely a modern motif. Storytellers have been warning us to stay out of the woods for at least four thousand years...obviously we are slow learners. In Beast of Robbers Wood, third book in the DCI Arthur Ravyn Mysteries, I add my own voice to those warning of dangers lurking among those seemingly peaceful sylvan settings.
Just outside Midriven village, in myth-haunted Hammershire County, is the vast, mostly unexplored tract known as Robbers Wood. The forest acquired that name through the depredations of notorious highwayman Ned Bly, who made his living by taking purses and heads along the Old Road. Even though his neck got stretched by Jack Ketch in 1837, his spirit still gallops the road. As if that were not reason enough to stay out of the woods (not to mention avoiding the lane that skirts the woods), there is an even older legend going back at least to the time of the Druids. A nameless Beast occasionally awakens from its slumber ("when the stars are right" of course) and takes victims back to its lair in the heart of the woods. Personally, I'd move to another village. When a girl vanishes from Midriven (only the first of several) it falls to DCI Arthur Ravyn and DS Leo Stark to investigate. None of the village old timers are betting on the detectives to survive, much less solve the baffling mystery -- what chance do two country coppers stand against the Old Gods?
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