The Darkness in the Pines by Harlan Graves is a creature-feature novella about a grieving Vietnam veteran named Howard Ward. Released in May, the story is Book 1 of 3 in a series titled The Beast of Fallow Pines. The Fallow Pines is a mysterious place with a history of missing lumberjacks and miners from the 1900s.
The first sentence – “Howard Ward had seen some shit” – is a perfect opener because it implies Howard is about to see more that he hadn’t seen before. And boy, does he ever.
Howard is an aging former soldier who lives in an isolated cabin amid a primeval forest known as Fallow Pines. Still bitter about the tragic death of his wife, Howard lives a loner’s survivalist life.
The story begins with Howard’s discovery of a decapitated bear soon followed by chickens with their heads torn off, then the inevitable footprint we suspect is Bigfoot’s.
The author Graves incorporates Howard’s Vietnam experience through past memories and dreams without killing the suspense in the present. Graves’ writing conveys the foreboding sense of walking through the woods alone, using the snap of a twig or the silence to effectively heighten the tension.
“The wind hissed through the pines, the branches rasping like dry bones. It carried with it the faint scent of decay.”
Howard’s first encounter with the Beast is watching “a huge black shape” drag away one of his deer kills.
When Howard visits a surplus store to buy a bear trap, the proprietor Tom warns him.
“Careful up there, Howard,” Tom said. “I overheard on my scanner just a week ago how a camper out Fallow Creek way was mauled in his sleeping bag. … Bear ate him like a burrito.”
Of course, Howard is stubborn, at one point telling the darkness, “These are MY woods.”
However, Bigfoot disagrees.
The Darkness in the Pines delivers not one but two epic one-on-one battles between Howard and the Beast. Howard seems to channel Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1987 film Predator, using his soldier skills to try and kill the Beast.
The three titles in The Beast of Fallow Pines series have generated more than 220 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.2 stars out of 5. I enjoyed Book 1 enough to read the rest of the series. I think fans of cryptid horror will enjoy it, too.
NEXT UP: Chapter Thirty-Six: The Beast of Fallow Pines. I review the 2021 novella by Harlan Graves.