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THE WOODCUTTER by Reginald Hill Kirkus Star

THE WOODCUTTER

By Reginald Hill

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A grim-dandy psychological thriller about betrayal and revenge set in England.

Sir Wilfred Hadda has risen far from his humble days as a woodcutter’s son. Nicknamed both Wilf and Wolf, it’s the latter that follows him throughout the story. He’s handsome, rich, well-connected and married to a gorgeous upper-class woman. What more could a man want? Oh wait, there’s someone at the door. The authorities arrive with a warrant, something about fraud and child pornography. In a panic at the false accusations, Wolf foolishly bolts into London traffic, with macabre consequences that are not for the squeamish reader. As an accused and apparently proven child molester, the tabloids crucify and the court convicts him. His trusted friend/lawyer abandons him, his wife divorces him, his business goes belly-up and he lands in prison. Only his physical toughness protects him from his pedophile-loathing fellow convicts. He simply cannot sink lower. The Swedish-Nigerian psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo (a beautiful woman, of course) tries to persuade him to face up to his obvious guilt. He vehemently protests his innocence, though admitting guilt may shorten his sentence. Years later he is released, but he is a pariah in the Cumbrian village where he was raised and chooses to return. He just wants to become a simple woodcutter, though he has questions for which he hires a private investigator. The answers may take a while, the P.I. tells him; what will you be doing in the meantime? “Sharpening my axe,” Wolf replies. Clearly, he had been set up. But by whom, and why? And what will he do about it? Doctor Ozigbo plays an intriguing secondary role as Wolf navigates the many dangerous twists and untangles the deceit that dates back for a generation.

Near the end, a character refers to the fate of “the dreadful, drab English.” There’s nothing drab about this dark and compelling novel, although some of its characters are dreadful human beings.