As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.
Richly atmospheric and stunning in its complexity, In the Woods is utterly convincing and surprising to the end.
I think if I hadn’t read so much hype about this book, I would have been more impressed. As it was, I was expecting something mindblowing. That isn’t to say the novel wasn’t good, because it was, but I wouldn’t mark it down as a top ten favourite, for example.
I do like how the author focuses heavily on the psychological aspect of the novel, and in fact places emphasis more on the emotional lives of the detectives than the victims, which is quite rare in the crime genre, as far as I know. Indeed, I recall a quote in the novel (wish I had bookmarked it, alas!) about how the victim only comes into prominence once they’re dead (obviously) – all the stories about them come from second hand sources, but you never really get to know them as a whole person.
The premise is also incredibly intriguing, and things are not dragged out – we are launched very quickly into the case and its possible link to something which happened to one of the detectives about twenty years’ prior. And while you immediately pick up that there’s something really dodgy in the victim’s family, things certainly aren’t clear at first, and proving anything in the case takes even longer. Despite that, you don’t get bored, which is testament to the author’s writing.
Indeed, you are kept hooked on the mystery of Detective Rob Ryan’s link to everything, and it is so damn frustrating not to get any answers in terms of his case, and the missing kids. On the other hand, I complain many a time about how some crime novels are just too convenient, with everything falling perfectly into place – so here I got what I wanted, a more realistic ending, but then was left unsatisfied. I guess I’m just a very picky customer.
I did, however, have the satisfaction of calling one of the perpetrators – it’s always a point of achievement when you can do this! But not everyone got what they deserved – again, unfair, frustrating, but all-too-real.
Finally, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention the complicated lives of the investigating detectives – the aforementioned Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie. ‘Frustrating’ seems to be a word thrown around a lot in this review, but that’s because it holds true for so many elements –Rob is a damaged character, somewhat easily manipulated, and tends to treat other people rather badly. You just want to shake him when he pretty much implodes his working and personal relationship with Cassie, when she’s done nothing wrong and was in his corner all along.
Despite my criticisms, Tana French definitely has an interesting, entertaining style, and she certainly knows how to weave elements of a crime plot into a rather elegant end piece.