Book Review: Mysterious Things in the Woods

This post was originally published on June 12, 2014.

Mysterious Things in the Woods
by Stephen Young
$2.99 on the Kindle

Each of us has at least one guilty indulgence, something we really like, though we know we shouldn’t. I’m not talking about actual sins, just sins against good taste: a trashy novel or a wonderfully stupid TV show that we just can’t get enough of. I have several of these, and “Mysterious Things in the Woods” is the latest in the collection.

As the title suggests, this is an (allegedly factual) reporting of bizarre and creepy occurrences in woodlands throughout the world: sudden vanishings, grisly murders, mutilated carcasses, hairy wild men, radioactive shadows, robot duplicates of grandma, and the like.

No, I’m not exaggerating. Each of those is an actual example from the book.

I love it.

But the book, judged from the perspective of the craft of book writing, is bad. The editing is simply atrocious. Let me give you a half-dozen examples.

Many of the blunders are likely the work of a very slipshod use of autocorrect as a substitute for a good proof-reading. Late in the book, the author makes a series of hilarious mistakes like substituting “cryptozoologist” with “cryptologist” and “cryptid” with “cystoid.” The very next chapter, the author proves that he has actually heard of the term “cryptozoology” before and uses it correctly, so I must assume it was an overzealous use of the spellcheck. Same goes for when he mentions that many attacks have occurred “where bears do not habituate [sic]”. And no one involved with the book has any idea how to spell Dyatlov.

But there’s more than just sloppy editing: the storytelling itself gets a little delirious in places. The book starts out with the fascinatingly creepy topic of the Clapham Woods in Sussex, England. By the very next chapter, the author starts referring to it, inexplicably, as the “Crawley Woods.” When talking about the various disappearances in Vermont’s “Bennington Triangle”, the author repeatedly confuses the names and sexes of the victims, eventually conflating Middie Rivers, a 74 year old man, with Frieda Langer, a 53 year old woman, and turning his name in to “Maddie”.

And throughout, the author sprinkles in enticing stories without bothering to explain any of the salient details, as if he forgot that you were reading this book because you hadn’t heard of this stuff before. For instance, he talks about : “The ‘Presque Incident’ of 1966, involved witnesses seeing a strange craft descend into a wooded area” and disgorging Bigfeet. I would very much like to know where this occurred (Presque Isle near Erie, Pennsylvania, perhaps?) and the larger context, but the author didn’t bother to mention. The author is likewise inclined to go off on inexplicable tangents, such as the section on the notorious secret underground base in Dulce, New Mexico. Not only does this have little to do with the woods, but after going on for several pages about the horrific experiments, reptile-men, and human/alien hybrids kept captive here, he tosses in a paragraph about a Swedish farmer-cum-prophet who says that the aliens told him no such bases exist. Oh, well, OK then!

So why do I love this book? To be sure, if my primary interest in it were as a scholarly investigation, I would be disappointed. But, while I don’t dismiss out of hand the possibility that these stories are true and that there is some unconventional, if not paranormal, phenomena involved, my interest in the book was that it would provide ample fodder for fiction. It delivers those in spades.

Several of the stories, such as the Clapham Wood Mystery and the Bennington Triangle, I was familiar with before, but even to these it introduces a few intriguing wrinkles (such as that radioactive shadow) that I was unaware of. The chapter on the Smiley Face Murders was chilling and entirely new to me, likewise the section on the Guarapiranga human mutilations in Brazil. In the same vein as Jacques Vallee, the author delivers some surprising information on the long history of mysterious animal mutilations (just like ‘UFO’ and hairy hominid sightings, they go back deep in time). There is a Shaver-esque tale of a young boy who disappeared in the woods and, after being safely recovered, reported that he had been taken by an evil robot duplicate of his own grandmother deep into a cave near Mt. Shasta. There is a shockingly up to date reference to a May 2014 article in the Daily Mail about the discovery of a 7 foot dog skeleton that may be the infamous “Black Shuck.” And there is this dandy:

Higdon claimed that as he pulled the trigger on his rifle, the bullet shot in slow motion, falling into the snow about fifty feet away. Going to retrieve the bullet, he found it strangely mangled. This jacket was examined by a Dr. Walter Walker, a Consultant in Metallurgy, who could only say that it must have struck something incredibly hard and with great force to be in the state it was. As Higdon retrieved the bullet, he claimed he was overcome by a strange sensation throughout his body, and to his utter astonishment, came face to face with a humanoid being, over 6 feet tall in a black jumpsuit outfit. He said that the being spoke to him, saying that if he took the pill he offered, he would not feel hungry for four days. Higdon duly swallowed the pill.

So this book is clearly terrific in terms of providing story fertilizer for SF, paranormal, or horror fiction, not to mention campfire ghost stories. My brain is already marinating in its flavorful offerings. At $2.99, it’s worth buying for your Kindle.

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