If all Robert B. Parker books were like Wilderness, he would never have become my favorite writer. It's actually an OK book, and if it had been written by anyone I else I might deem it worthy of four stars. But as a Parker book, it's bottom of the barrel, down there below the Sunny Randall series and the assorted stand-alones and the juveniles and the new Spenser, Jesse Stone and Cole & Hitch books written by other hands, all of which I deem pretty dang good.
That said, it still ain't a bad book. I just hold it to a higher standard. I was a little surprised to note that it was published in 1979, with five Spenser books already a reality. While reading it for the first time - just a couple of weeks ago - it felt like a proto-Spenser novel, with Parker feeling his way along in search of a character. Is it possible he wrote this first, and got it published only in wake of his success with Spenser? It would be pretty to think so, but I have nothing to support that notion. The only comment I've seen by Parker is that it allowed him to write about a hero whose courage was suspect.
That suspect courage is one of the book's main shortcomings. The other is the hero's constant whining about loving his wife more than she loves him. The hero is a thriller writer named Aaron Neuman with several Spenser characticeristics: He's big, fit, he runs, and (except for the whining) relatively autonomous. His biggest shortcoming is that has abolutely no sense of humor. Wife Janet - at least ast the beginning of the book - is cold, anal and bossy. She's even more annoying that Susan gets when she has her identity crisis circa The Widening Gyre.
The story kicks off with Neuman seeing a woman murdered. He's determined to do his duty and identify the killer until he's threatened - in a big way - and forced to recant. Cue the crisis of courage and more recriminations from Janet. Eventually, the prodding of his bossy wife and virile next door neighor convince him to take the initiative and murder the killer who's threatening him.
The hunt for the killer leads eventually into the woods, hence the title, and scenes that foreshadow Spenser being hunted by Gerry Broz twelve years later in Pastime. There are a couple of cops who are not unlike Martin Quirk and Frank Belson. And there are other familiar echoes. I mean, what would a Parker book be without the line "The ways of the Lord are often dark, but never pleasant"?