Review: Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik

Title: Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 280 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


For fans of David Joy and Christopher J. Yates, comes Ian Pisarcik’s haunting debut novel exploring the fraught nature of families and the inescapable secrets that are out to cripple them.

On the outskirts of a town too tired for its own happenings, the boys were found dead inside a tent.

Three years later, their fathers have disappeared, too.

Ruth Fenn’s son was the boy they blamed. For three years, Ruth has accepted her lot as pariah, focusing on her ailing mother and the children left in her care by the struggling single parents of North Falls, Vermont. But now the additional loss of her husband is too much to bear, and she has no choice but to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it. But as she edges closer to the truth, she begins to uncover some secrets that are better left buried.

That’s when she meets Milk Raymond, a war vet who comes home to find his nine-year-old son abandoned by his mother. Unable to find work, with no idea how to be a father, Milk turns to Ruth for help. But as the mystery of Ruth’s missing husband deepens, the fragile stability Milk has created for Daniel is shattered by the ill-fated return of Daniel’s mother, who will stop at nothing to get her boy back.

As these unsettled and interconnected lives hurtle towards a devastating conclusion, both Ruth and Milk are about to learn that their dying Vermont town has more secrets than they ever thought possible–and there are those who will do anything to protect them.


Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik is a somewhat bleak yet compelling mystery.

Three years ago, Ruth Fenn’s son Mathew and his best friend William Downing died under somewhat murky circumstances.  Unfortunately, State Trooper Leo Stonebridge shared his opinion of what happened to the media and the blame fell squarely on Mathew’s shoulders. William’s mother, Della, publicly agreed which destroyed her longstanding friendship with Ruth. With Ruth and her husband Elam shunned by their small town, they keep to themselves on their rural property.  Meanwhile Della is very involved in the local church and her husband Horace has battled demons of his own.

Ruth is forced out of seclusion when Elam fails to return home one night. She is also shocked to discover that he was with Horace the night before and that Horace is also missing.  Ruth has no choice but to seek out Della in order to try to make sense of why their husbands were together.  Ruth is tough, gutsy and no-nonsense so she fearlessly confronts the less than savory men who might have information about Elam and Horace. Della is a rather insipid woman whose faith sustains her but she is shaken out of complacency as days pass without any new information about Elam or Horace.

Iraq war veteran Milk Raymond has just been discharged from the military and he returns home to care for his nine year old son Daniel. Milk is quite upset that his son’s mother Jessica left Daniel in the care of her elderly, confused grandmother.  After hurriedly settling into an apartment, Milk tries to settle into fatherhood. Unfortunately, he is struggling with nightmares about his wartime experiences.  Milk is also a bit of an indifferent dad who has no idea what it means to raise a child. But Milk is trying his best and social worker Jett Oakley puts him in touch with Ruth who is an art teacher.  Milk’s first order of business is to find employment, but their economically depressed town is definitely on a downward spiral.

Before Familiar Woods is a gritty mystery that deals with some very difficult topics such as addiction and PTSD.  Ruth is a pragmatic woman whose regrets haunt her as she contemplates her marriage and motherhood. Milk is doing the best he can under the circumstances but his parental skills are lacking.  The Vermont setting is rather dark, oppressive and unyielding.  Ian Pisarcik brings this gripping mystery to a shocking, twist-filled conclusion that is also surprisingly hopeful.  A well-written debut that I enjoyed and recommend to readers of the genre.

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