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In the Woods ~ Tana French

March 21, 2010

The Sunday

Genre: Adult Fiction/Thriller
Publisher: Penguin Books
429 pages
ISBN: 9780143113492
The sun is lazily setting on a picture perfect Knocknaree summer day. Three twelve year old friends, two boys and a girl, have been wasting their last days of freedom before the school year comes crashing in. They sit on an ancient castle wall, legs dangling, sandwiches half eaten, discussing the travesty that is one of the three’s approaching departure to boarding school.

As dark approaches, mothers starting ringing each other, wondering why the little band of picnickers haven’t returned. They wait. They wait a little bit more. Then, they call the police. After searching the woods in which they were last seen, they come up two children short. The one they do find, Adam Ryan, is in shock, stalk still gripping a tree with lacerations on his back and blood soaked through his shoes.

The other two are never found, dead or alive. Ryan remembers nothing of the event, not a single thing and the case, eventually goes cold, leaving parents and friends in a traumatized lurch.

Twenty years later, Adam (now “Rob”) Ryan is back in Knocknaree as a novice Murder detective. He and his partner, Cassie (the only female on the squad) have been called into town to investigate the murder of another twelve year old whose death bears striking parallels to the events two decades before.

Between rabidly dedicated archeologists, money-mad motorway designers, ex-bad girls, freak roommates and modern human blood on prehistoric sacrificial alters, there is no end to possible suspects or motives. The ever dwindling crew has to work fast, though, before the killer strikes again or worse, before the modern day case dries up and becomes as cold as its predecessor.

I hate writing reviews that run against the grain of popular thought on a book because then I spend most of my time refuting the main lines of contention that I find so “untrue” (subjectively, of course).

As much as I hate it, it simply must be done in this, ahem, case. Without going into to too much detail, there are several issues unresolved at the end of the book. Again, I don’t want to dig too deeply into them as the whole point of the book is to uncover these lines of plot but I will say I agree with French’s artistic choice of leaving questions unanswered, in both relationship and in the field.

I think that, perhaps, the general disappointment surrounding In the Woods comes from a culture exposed to too much  Bones and CSI. I’ve always been a little wary of the 53 minute (with requisite commercial breaks), solvable murder. Not that the story, here, is the model of realistic true crime but it did leave things a bit more organic and seemingly more honest to the field than the regular Hollywood tale or pulp thriller.

Now, I understand the confusion if you’re a hard and fast mystery lover. I’m not really a mystery person. I think there is a certain mentality that comes with readers who like their books with suspense but do like to walk away with a clean, definitive answer. There is, I think, something rewarding about that for many readers, something cathartic, a step away from their ambiguous troubles and blurry sorrows.

I, on the other hand, tend to get lost in the process of traveling from and to rather than fixating on points A and B. For this reason, I enjoyed the open, questions-left feel of In the Woods.

The writing is solid and smart and the dialogue is just brilliant. French’s players just beg you to reach inside the book and throw an arm around a sad friend or pull that same arm back and slug a creepy villain. For me, In the Woods is holding strong as my number one book for this year, although, I may stand alone in this decision.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 12:29 pm

    It is on my TBR pile!

    Here is my TSS post!

    • iwriteinbooks permalink*
      March 21, 2010 12:35 pm

      Oh, good! I think you’ll really like it. I think you just have to stay focused on the writing and the people rather than tying up any one plot line. Can’t wait till you read it!

  2. March 21, 2010 6:34 pm

    I really enjoyed In The Woods. The psychological components of the novel were fascinating- watching trying to deal with his past that was so blatantly knocking at his door. There were several points when I just wanted to stop him from coping in the ways that he chose. I wanted the mystery to be solved as well, but sometimes people never get those answers or closure and that is just as valid to explore.

  3. March 22, 2010 7:38 am

    I can’t wait to see what you think of the follow up book, The Likeness, which I thought was a better book than this one. I did enjoy this book, even though I hated the ending when I read it.


  1. The Likeness ~ Tana French « Iwriteinbooks's Blog

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