Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong

Rating: 5/5 stars

Watcher.jpg

Pages: 413

Series: Rockton, Book 4

Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction

This being the fourth book in the series, there’s not much I can say without referencing the other books in the series. I can say that I’ve enjoyed this series just as much as some of Armstrong’s other works and much more than some of her earlier stuff. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her earlier works as Bitten remains one of my favourite books of all time and a go-to reread for me. It’s more that I truly believe that Armstrong’s writing is just getting better and better as she continues to hone her craft – which is great for me because I can’t get enough of her stories!

The Rockton series is based on small town living in the Yukon – with a twist – and, having done a lot of research on the area itself, Armstrong does an amazing job at making Rockton feel like a real place filled with real people. Even the secondary characters take on a life of their own, making the world Armstrong has created an amazing place to escape to. The fact that she recently got a place up in the Yukon means that her world building of the area is only going to get stronger and stronger.

Of course, like any other Rockton novel, things don’t always go according to plan. Armstrong has a way with words that makes the plots twists and turns surprising even when I’m waiting for something to go wrong. In instances where I know something’s gong to happen, someone’s going to get shot or run away from the authorities, Armstrong writes the scenes in such a way I’m not mad I knew what was going to happen.

On top of how amazing the world and Armstrong’s writing is, I love the way in which she deals with heavier topics such as sociopathy and autism.

If you don’t know what sociopathy is, it is an umbrella term used to refer to patterns of antisocial behaviours and attitude. It is an antisocial spectrum and an informal diagnosis used to explain why some people may display little regard for other people. While many people use the term “sociopath” and expect every person with sociopathy to act the same way, it is important to note that this is a spectrum and not a hard and fast “diagnosis”. In Watcher in the Woods, Armstrong goes into some detail explaining what sociopathy is and what this can mean for people that have it. She shows how different people on the spectrum can act very differently in the same situation and underlines the importance on getting to understand the person and not the “disorder”. If you go into this book not understanding what sociopathy is, I believe that you will get a very well thought out introduction to the topic.

While I assume most people understand what autism is, Armstrong also does a great job at showing how the spectrum works. It is not always obvious when someone has autism and it does not always prevent them from living a normal and fulfilling life. Autism is something that gets a bad rap in society when it really doesn’t need to. As well, there are many people who refuse to accept that someone they love has autism. I believe that Armstrong showcased this point beautifully within this novel.

If you’re someone who’s into mystery novels, I suggest checking this series out. While they technically could be read as standalone novels, as the main plot of each book holds its own, the interactions between characters, their motivations and secrets, and how each one came to Rockton, won’t be as clear. I highly recommend checking out the first book in the series and going from there. (So don’t read on unless you’ve read the first three books!)

*Spoilers ahead*

Armstrong writes flawed characters wonderfully. She manages to give each character depth in a way many writers cannot. Instead of having a surface level character flaw, Armstrong is able to go deep into her characters psyches to understand their motivations.

For example, Mathias. We’ve learned a lot about him in this series so far and despite his outward attitude of not wanted to be helpful, he’s always there when Casey needs him. He might joke that his wolf-dog, Raoul, is going to be trained to scare people off but in reality I believe he’s going to love the little guy and spoil him forever.

Another example of a character with depth is Petra. While in This Fallen Prey we get to see Petra act in a way that’s seemingly contradictory to her character, in Watcher we get a more in depth look at why she did what she did.

Armstrong did an amazing job at introducing Casey’s past and family life to the reader through the introduction of her older sister, April. April’s character made it possible for Casey to dissect her view of her family dynamics both before and after her parents’ death and learn that how she pictured things wasn’t how April pictured them. Each one seems to have a (seemingly minor) sister complex, believe that the other had an easy time at life.

April always thought that Casey had it easy because Casey could be the family “screw up”. After all, April was already being the good daughter and doing everything their parents wanted her to do. She followed in their footsteps by becoming a doctor, making it possible for Casey to do what she wanted with her life. Nobody asked April what she wanted to do with her life, it was just assumed that she’d be a good daughter and do what their parents expected of her. She was envious of Casey’s ease with people and her willingness to be true to herself. On top of all that, April felt like she was the interloper in their family, not understanding why their parents let Casey get away with so much when she was doing exactly what they wanted of her.

Casey, on the other hand, felt like she was always living in her sister’s shadow. She felt like she wasn’t good enough, that she was a failure in her family’s eyes. After all, April was the golden child and Casey should have been more like her. Not being in the genius percentile for IQ was something that made Casey different than the rest of her family and something they never let her forget. As well, Casey always felt like she couldn’t impress April even though that’s all she wanted to do as a little kid. Eventually, she gave up trying but that didn’t stop her from wanting to get her sister’s approval. By becoming a detective instead of a doctor like her parents wanted, Casey felt like she’d let them down.

Seeing the two sisters interact in this book made me that much thankful that I have an older sister that I’m able to talk to about practically anything – and vice versa. While there were years where we didn’t get along, we never had as big of an issue communicating as April and Casey.

Yet even though my sister and I have a better relationship than Casey and April, there were still some similarities there. As the younger sister, I can relate to constantly trying to get your sibling’s attention and not understanding when it didn’t work. Us younger siblings can be annoying, but it comes from a place of love – most of the time. I, too, used to make snide comments under my breath when I didn’t get my way with my sister or we didn’t understand where the other was coming from. Now, I know better than to engage in a petty spat when I can just let it go instead. Usually I do this to people who aren’t my sister as we’re able to talk to each other like adults, but it’s something that having an older sister made me pretty good at. It’s much easier to disengage and walk away than to get riled up about something you have no control over.

Seeing the April and Casey finally start to understand each other in this book, to understand where the miscommunication was happening, brought joy to my heart. My best friend doesn’t like to read about siblings fighting because she’s so close with hers, and I know she loved reading about April and Casey finally starting to work things out. She, too, loves Armstrong’s writing and was excited to talk to me about this scene. It’s so much better when siblings can get along, isn’t it?

I found the way that Armstrong introduces April’s autism to not only the reader but also to Casey to be very impactful. How many people go about their everyday lives being willfully ignorant about these things the way that their parents were in regards to April’s autism? Even today, when people are supposed to be more understanding and accepting of others, it’s hard for a lot of parents to come to terms with the idea that their child might have autism. To accept it as fact is even harder for a lot of people to do. Most, like Casey and April’s parents, deny it until their last breath.

However, this doesn’t stop April from trying to work around her “limitations”. I use quotations here because I do not think that her autism stops her from being a bright woman, just that April needs to work that much harder to process some things than others do. The main point I’m trying to make here is April is willing to try. She knows that things don’t come as easily to her as they do to Casey, but that doesn’t stop her from recruiting Kenny to help her catch when she’s being obtuse about a situation or a person’s meaning behind their words. She wants to be able to communicate with others with ease, but it’s hard for her to catch herself. Kenny being willing to help her with things helps take some of the pressure off of her, making it easier for her to work towards her goals.

I can’t wait to see how Kenny and April’s relationship progresses throughout the rest of the series. While I feel as if there’s feeling there on at least April’s side, I love the way Kenny is helping her deal with her suspected autism. I’d love to see whether this help might blossom into something more between the two. Either way, April basically saved Kenny’s life (or at least made it possible for him to move after getting shot) and Kenny is more than willing to help April out in return. At the very least, I’m sure the two of them will end up very good friends.

When looking at the drama that the US Marshall brought into Rockton, it’s easy for me to call him a jackass. He expects Casey and Eric to go along with what he wants without respecting the fact that he’s in Canada and they’re the local authority. He waves his badge like they should worship him, even though he has 0 jurisdiction in Rockton. I’m not going to say that he deserved everything that he got, but I’m also not not going to say that.

I don’t think that killing a person is the right way to deal with a problem, but in Rockton it’s kind of to be expected. If he hadn’t thrown such a huge stink over trying to find his guy, he could have continued his search in a quieter manner and might have lived through his visit to Rockton. Also, faking an accident to get sympathy so you can sneak out to capture your fugitive? Even if you are law enforcement, that doesn’t make you one of the good guys.

Another person who kind of got what he deserved was Phil. While he was used to being the council’s puppet already, he was used to doing it from the comfort of the modern world and not in Rockton itself. It took him longer than it should have to come to terms with the fact that he might just be stuck in Rockton for good and he’d better start joining the town instead of condemning their lifestyle. I mean, did he really think it was a good idea to keep pulling his gun on the town’s law enforcement?

Sure Casey and Eric work around him a lot in this book, but they did so for a very good reason. My parents always told me it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and though they didn’t recommend doing it all the time, there are times where it’s the best scenario. Casey and Eric did what they needed to do in order to get Kenny the help he so desperately needed. Rather than wasting time waiting for the council to make a decision, they acted in the best interest of their community and snuck April in.

While I’m glad that April is going to be added to the main cast of the story, I do need to admit that my favourite April interaction has to be right when Kenny wakes up and spills water on himself. I can’t imagine how mortified he was to almost admit that his dick still worked in front of April and Casey. Sure, he saved it at the last second but that doesn’t mean that Casey (and possibly April but unlikely) realized what Kenny was about to say.

Getting to meet Émilie, Petra’s grandmother, was probably one of my favourite parts of this book. Through Émilie we got to learn how the council came to be and why they’re so different now than they were when they first formed. The reader is also given an insight into how not everyone on the council knows everything, both through Émilie and Petra. Émilie didn’t know that fugitives were being allowed to buy their way into Rockton, and it wasn’t something she condoned. She still believed that their connections to different law enforcement agencies was preventing this from happening. On top of that, the reader gets an insight into how Petra got to Rockton and why she’s done what she has.

The Petra storyline has quickly become one of my favourites of this series. I can’t wait to read more about the hostiles and find out what the council has been doing in the Yukon woods. If Petra has been secretly working for the council then it’s pretty obvious that anyone else in town could also be working for them. Finding out the different connections between the townspeople is probably going to be my favourite mystery of the entire series.

Not to mention the role the hostiles play in relation to the council. It’s been obvious since book 1 that the council is corrupt, but now the reader is finally starting to see how corrupt it truly is. It’s not every council member even though that’s what it seemed like with Val as their liaison. I can’t wait to find out if the corruption is the majority or just a powerful minority.

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