In the Woods
Author: Tana French
Series: #1, Dublin Murder Series
Winner: Edgar Award for Best First Novel, 2008; Anthony Award for Best First Novel, 2008; Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, 2008
New York Times Bestseller
Original Publication: 2007
Genre: Fiction (Mystery, Crime)
This novel pulls you in from the first page with its astonishing imagery of rural Ireland and the nostalgia of being a child playing in the woods with his friends, untouchable and free. The first chapter had me thinking “This is how I want to write when I grow up.” The tone is eerily set when on one such night, three children disappear into the woods to play and don’t return. The police are dispatched, and find no traces whatsoever of two of the children. The third, a terrified little boy with his fingernails embedded in the tree he is plastered against, is catatonic and his shoes are filled with blood. The boy remembers nothing of what happened to him or his friends, and the mystery is never solved.
Fast-forward twenty-odd years later and that little boy, Adam Ryan, has changed his name to Rob and has become a murder detective in Dublin. He reveals his past to no one, and still has no memory of what happened to his friends that night in the woods. When a little girl is murdered in those same woods under mysterious circumstances, the case lands on the desks of Rob and his partner, Cassie Maddox. Rather than admit the obvious conflict of interest and remove himself from the case, Rob decides that this case may hold the key to his own past and what happened to his two best friends.
The investigation into the murder of the little girl is necessarily a large part of the story, and very well done. Psychologically, Rob is ill-suited for this case, and his gradual unhinging adds a really interesting dimension to what might otherwise be a fairly typical (if beautifully written) murder mystery. Each character is very well-developed, and I felt like I knew each of them. Rob’s partner, female detective Cassie Maddox, is a particularly endearing character. It’s not the mystery itself that makes the book good – the mystery, while not entirely predictable, was certainly not entirely shocking. What makes the book good is the way that the characters are portrayed. The interaction between them and the dialogue seemed very authentic to me.
That said, however, there was one passage I remarked on to my husband (who read it before I did) where Rob’s character said/thought something particularly sensitive, and I liked that. I said something like “He’s written so well! That’s such a perfect thing to say.” My husband said “It was a perfect thing to say, but it’s not a GUY thing to say.” When I asked what he meant, he said “He’s not written like a real guy. He’s written like a woman trying to write a real guy.” Which, indeed, is the case. As for myself, I didn’t think that his perceived inauthenticity detracted from the story. In fact, I would have argued that he seemed very genuine. I thought that our differing perceptions of Rob’s character were interesting.
Fun Fact: The author, Tana French, is a professionally trained theater actor (Trinity College, Dublin) and also does film and voiceover work. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, The United States, and Malawi and is a citizen of both The United States and Italy.
Bother If: You like crime thrillers and murder mysteries. I thought that it was a very good read, if perhaps not so good that I’m dying to read the next two books in the series (The Likeness, Faithful Place.) If I come across them, I’ll read them, but I probably won’t seek them out. It is very nearly worth reading if only for the introduction, if you are a great lover of words.
Don’t Bother If: Novels in the crime thriller vein are generally either one’s cup of tea, or they aren’t. This one might disturb some because of the age of the victim and manner of death.