I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.
But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.
Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.
But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.
I think at this point I can conclude that the Stevie Bell books just aren’t really for me anymore. I wanted so badly to like this book but I just couldn’t get invested in the storyline or the characters.
My biggest hangups came from the characters. Stevie just doesn’t make for a sympathetic or interesting main character anymore. She’s always been a character who does more in her head than out loud and, while I liked that in Truly Devious when I first read it, I didn’t like it in this book. David also really bothered me in this book. At least, the way Stevie and David interacted in this book was annoying. I really didn’t like that he called her princess. The one character that I really loved in this book was Nate. His humor really came through and I liked spending more time with him.
The plot line was really interesting and I love how dark and grizzly it got. The Ellingham mystery in the original trilogy was such a different type of case than the Box in the Woods mystery, which was definitely more slasher-y and thrilling. This book contained more action and fast-paced scenes than I was expecting compared to the first three books. I enjoyed the feeling of there being higher stakes and more danger- not only did it help keep me interested but it helped keep up the pacing since a lot of the book revolves around Stevie’s other thoughts.
Although the murders themselves and the mystery surrounding the town were interesting I didn’t feel like I had enough clues to solve the mystery myself or even piece together smaller parts of it. It was obvious that people were hiding things but it seems like Stevie did a lot of the mystery-solving in the background. I don’t understand why so much of the book is spent following Stevie’s every thought until it comes to the main plot, then she’s suddenly doing all this in the background and the reader gets dropped out of the narrative. I found the resolution to the mystery interesting but ultimately a letdown because I didn’t feel swept up in it. One minute Stevie is thinking about how she doesn’t know what happened and that she’s a failure and the next minute she’s revealing what truly happened and then the book ends. It just wasn’t a very satisfying way to end the book and feeling left out of the excitement of putting the pieces together made me even less interested in the book than I already was.
I don’t think this about books very often but I would have rather this been a movie/TV episode than a book. The parts that I really liked (the secretive town, the slasher murder in the woods, the side characters and dialogue) would have really been brought to life on the screen. I could have done without Stevie’s internal monologues and thoughts and I definitely could have done without the David/Stevie drama. I enjoyed the concept of the plot but the execution just wasn’t for me. I think this and The Hand on the Wall have taught me that I’m just not really interested in the characters or world in these books anymore. I’m sure that many others will love this book but it just wasn’t for me.