Though I have never read one of Harlan Coben’s many novels, I have appreciated how well the previous two Netflix series based on the work of Coben — Safe and The Stranger — managed to reproduce onscreen the feeling of reading a good but not too heavy mystery novel. They are nimble murder mysteries that are almost comfortable, despite the bleak proceedings within them, because of how well they recreate the experience of lying in a comfortable chair under a blanket and reading a page-turning mystery. They are good solid, self-contained stories with capable actors, atmospheric settings, and competent direction.
Coben’s novels are typically set in and around New York City and New Jersey, but Safe and The Stranger were set in the UK, while the latest, The Woods, is set in Poland because Coben’s storylines can apparently be plugged into any country where there is a city to set the investigation and a forest outside of it to bury a body.
Grzegorz Damiecki takes on the lead role of Pawel Kopinski in The Woods, continuing in a tradition of handsome almost nondescript male leads (Michael C. Hall and Richard Armitage occupied that position in the previous two series). The setting alternates between Warsaw in the present and a summer camp outside of the city in 1994, where two teenage campers were murdered and another two, including Pawel’s sister, went missing. In the present, the 40-year-old body of the other person who went missing, Artur Perkowski, shows up in a morgue, leading Pawel to believe that perhaps his sister is still alive.
The investigation leads Pawel — a widower — to others from his past, including his teenage girlfriend, Laura (Agnieszka Grochowska). The two endeavor to unlock the mystery behind the two murders, as well as why Artur and Pawel’s sister, Kamila (Martyna Byczkowska) disappeared twenty-five years ago. In the meantime, Pawel — a prosecutor — is also trying to convict two men of rape, but the father of one of them — a powerful journalist — is trying to ruin Pawel’s life in an effort to make him drop the charges against his son.
One of the things I like about these Coben series — and The Woods is no exception — is how well they maintain the mystery without resorting to huge, left-field reveals. The conclusions manage to be satisfying, logical, and surprising, and like the best mystery novels, we figure it out about five pages before the protagonist does. That’s how a good mystery should work.
The Woods is Netflix’s second original Polish series, while Coben’s next for the streaming service will be El Inocente, set in Madrid. Coben currently has a five-year deal with Netflix to produce 14 series and movies based on his novels. This short series — The Woods is six episodes long — make for excellent weekend binges.