THE FOREST OF SOULS BY CARLA BANKS

A Review by Sandra Ruttan


Sometimes, a person thinks their greatest fears are locked in the secrets of the past, until someone finds a key and they realize their greatest fear isn’t what happened years ago, but what might happen if someone learns the truth now.

The Forest of Souls begins with the murder of Helen Kovacs, a woman snooping through documents in a private library, documents connected to WWII. Helen’s best friend, Faith Lange, whose grandfather survived the war and came to Britain afterwards, was also Helen’s supervisor. When she realizes some of Helen’s work research is missing, she suspects there’s more to Helen’s murder than the police suspect.

At the same time, Faith is concerned about her grandfather. Journalist Jake Denbigh has been visiting Marek Lange, asking questions, and her grandfather’s behaviour has become erratic. Is he concealing some secret from his past that he doesn’t want his granddaughter to discover?

A secret he might even kill to protect? Or does someone else, like Helen’s estranged husband, have a more personal motive for murder?

The Forest of Souls is a complex book. It has the cornerstones of crime fiction – a murder, people invested in finding the truth, multiple suspects with valid motives – but finding the killer really is a subplot. This book is more about the atrocities of the past than it is about the crimes of the present.

This book is also about relationships. Without giving spoilers, I will say that it made me think a lot about how our own experiences can become excuses for our shortcomings – as parents, spouses, friends. I don’t think it’s reaching to say that this book shows how deep loyalty, misplaced, can have devastating consequences.

Although The Forest of Souls is rooted in a current setting, even much of what is happening to the central characters is relayed in terms of the past. Conversations and information are often recalled in memory, rather than conveyed in the context of a present conversation. Because the story included point-of-view perspectives from people living during the war as well, there was definitely a sense of moving back and forward through time.

Reading The Forest of Souls, it’s clear that the author (Carla Banks is a pseudonym for Danuta Reah) has vividly imaged each scene. The amount of detail in the description is incredible, and she can truly write to the senses. It wasn’t hard for parts of the book to conjure vivid images in my mind because the setting was so clearly established. I was also particularly drawn to the character of Jake Denbigh.

This story is more about uncovering the truth about what people did during the war, and how revealing those facts might affect those they love today. No matter how vivid your imagination and what you suspect may be the secrets these war survivors are trying to hide, the author deftly weaves in twists that will surprise you.

I have to say that everything I feel works for this book could work against it for some reasons. This is not a light read. You will not fly through it in a few hours, even if you – like me – find it hard to put down. The amount of description is incredible, but some readers might find it overwhelming. Moving back and forth through time allows you to see all the aspects of the story and get a greater sense of resolution about what happened in the war, though I’m aware some readers might find that distracting. While the real mysteries are in secrets from the past, this isn’t really a whodunit.

But this is an incredible story of things that happened in WWII, and it takes us further east than many wartime accounts go. The terrain was new and fresh for me, and as someone with a love of history and a lot of interest in WWII, I found it fascinating.

And in this era of trials for more recent war crimes, when atrocities still happen and people are slaughtered for nothing more than their ethnicity, one can’t help but read this book and wonder when we’ll begin to learn from the past instead of covering it up and letting it repeat itself again.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Sandra Ruttan has just signed a deal for the release of her first novel, Suspicious Circumstances, in November 2006. A regular contributor to Spinetingler Magazine, her work can also be found in the May/June and July/August issues of Crimespree Magazine. For more information about Sandra visit her website at www.sandraruttan.com


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