In the Woods

in the woodsBlogging has been a wonderful memory tool for me. Before I started keeping records of what I read and what I think about it, I used to wander about in the library, thinking, “Have I read that one, or…?” and I’d bring it home, and halfway through I’d realize that yes, indeed, I had read it. This book was the reverse error. I was fairly sure I’d started Tana French’s In the Woods several years back (pre-blogging), and that I hadn’t liked it and hadn’t finished it. But we were reading it for my mystery book club, so I thought I might as well give it another shot. I’m so glad I did! Not only am I innocent of ever having read this book before, it was a well-written, enjoyable debut mystery from an author I’d certainly like to try again.

When Rob Ryan was 12 years old, three children from his Irish village were lost in the woods. Two were never found. The third — Rob himself — was found gripping a tree in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to remember a single detail of the preceding hours. Fast-forward twenty years, and Rob is a homicide detective, partnered with Cassie Maddox, and still unable to dredge up memories of much of his childhood. But when another girl is found dead in his home village of Knocknaree, he may have a chance to solve this murder as well as his own past.

The best part of this book was the evocative way it was written. Rob, the narrator, weaves stories from the squad room, stories from his childhood, suspect interviews, and scenes from his close partnership and friendship with Cassie together seamlessly and with a light touch. The partnership is particularly well done: French really brings out the joy and tenderness of a really close friendship between young people, the sparking of ideas, the in-jokes, the banter, the trust. The police-procedural part of the book is interesting and realistic, but it’s wedged in around the relationships, which are really the spine of the novel.

I will say that I found the thing that was supposed to be a Big Surprise predictable from the beginning, and I think most experienced mystery readers will also find it so, but in the end, the big reveal is not the most important thing about the book. The slow crumble of the case is difficult to watch, because the buildup of it was so beautifully done, and the ending satisfies more for psychological reasons than for any surprise factor. French is better at understanding people and their motivations than she is at doing jigsaw puzzles, and that’s a compliment.

Several people in my book group complained about the ending, because (as I mentioned in my brief summary) there are two mysteries in this novel, and one of them is resolved, and the other is not. They felt they were left hanging. I disagreed: I never expected one of the mysteries to be resolved, and would have been faintly annoyed to have it tied up in a neat bow. I prefer ambiguous endings, and this one came well up to scratch.

There were a few things that bothered me in this novel — there’s one plot point that I thought was awkwardly handled and unrealistic — but I think they are the quirks of a debut novel. Overall, I thought it was gripping, well-written, witty, and completely enjoyable. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

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14 Responses to In the Woods

  1. Word Lily says:

    I read this one semi-recently, too, and really enjoyed it as well! I need to get back to French and read the next book soon.

  2. whatmeread says:

    Tana French has written several books by now, and all of them are very good. Her most recent was Broken Harbor.

    • Jenny says:

      I saw she had several out. Glad you’ve enjoyed them.

      • whatmeread says:

        The interesting thing that French does, I think, is in the next book, she will take a character who was in the book before but not the major character, and write the book from that character’s point of view. So, the books are related but not a series. It is helpful to read them in the order she wrote them.

  3. jenclair says:

    I’ve read the first 3 of her books, but this remains my favorite! I have not yet gotten around to Broken Harbor, but I will.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ll have to see what I think! I had some idea that this might have flaws because it was a debut novel, but we’ll see.

  4. Jenny says:

    What plot point did you find unrealistic, can I ask? I don’t remember the book this well but there were a few things that bothered me about it (including plot things).

    • Jenny says:

      The biggest thing that bothered me was the way, when Rob and Cassie slept together, he completely wigged out and dumped her in every possible stereotyped way. It seemed as if French thought it was necessary for the plot, but a) it wasn’t and b) it was completely out of character for Rob. Yes, I get that when someone can’t trust his memory he can’t trust anyone (including himself), but this was utterly ridiculous.

  5. Rohan says:

    Glad to see your post on this — French is a novel that a few people have recommended to me recently and this confirms her as someone I want to look up — though I have kind of a bias against books with plots that turn on murdered children.

    • Jenny says:

      Ugh, so do I. I don’t think I would have picked this up on my own, but it turned out to be unexpectedly well done.

  6. Aparatchick says:

    I’ve heard many comments about the ending – the unsolved mystery in particular. It didn’t bother me, since many, many mysteries remain unsolved in real life. I’ve thought very highly of everything Tana French has written, but “Faithful Place” remains my favorite for it’s extremely well-written characters. It’s a heartbreaker of a book.

    • Jenny says:

      I completely agree with what you say about mysteries remaining unresolved in real life — I think a lot of people don’t read mysteries for real life, though, and fair enough. Thanks for the recommendation of Faithful Place. I’ll read them in order, but it’s very nice to know I have more to look forward to.

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