Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana French

Publisher: Penguin Books
Published Date: May 27, 2008
ISBN: 978-0143113492
Pages: 464
Genre: Mystery; Detective Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: 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 shoes, 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 with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

My Thoughts: I cannot believe I waited so long to read this book. Tana French is a super star in the genre of mystery and detective fiction especially considering this was her debut, a fact which still takes me by surprise. A multi-layered plot, terrific character development and top-notch suspense make this book an edge-of-your-seat, can't-put-it-down read!

There's just about something for everybody in In the Woods. It's mainly a mystery with an intriguing murder that comes to light early in the book and involves a riveting investigation. Possibly linked to this is an unsolved case from many years ago that serves as a secondary story-line. There is also a relationship, and potential romance, story-line that's captivating and extremely well-written with some of the best chemistry of any book, TV show or movie I've experienced! Ms. French has filled the pages of her debut with an enticing, magnetic story of many parts that kept me treading well into the night and not regretting a minute of the sleep I sacrificed!

Detective Rob Ryan and Detective Cassie Maddox are the fascinating stars of In the Woods and will keep you engrossed until the very end. Maddox is tough and up to proving she can play with the big boys and beat them at their game. Many of the detectives in the murder squad, all men, don't believe it's a place for women and that includes Maddox's boss, O'Kelly. Ryan doesn't have the same opinion as his colleagues, especially when the woman is Detective Cassie Maddox. Ryan and Maddox become a great pair, equally engaging and likeable, at least in the beginning. Ryan, it seems, has some pretty intense secrets from the days of his childhood. When they come to light and threaten his spot in the investigation of the young girl's murder, he asks nicely, or manipulates, depending on your point of view, his partner Maddox into keeping his secret. This decision could prove detrimental to both their careers and it's at this point the story takes on a little extra intrigue!

I became slightly suspicious and wary of Ryan at this point! I couldn't decide whether or not Ryan could be trusted. I also wasn't sure if Maddox was a weak woman, afraid to assert herself, or if she trusted Ryan and believed he had integrity and her back. Clouding these issues was the growing chemistry between Maddox and Ryan. One minute they were definitely just good friends and partners, the next their relationship was much more intimate. With every chapter Ms. French developed Ryan and Maddox a little more with facts and details about their lives and characteristics of their personality until, by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew them both, Maddox in particular.

The primary characters might take up a lot of the space in this story but Ms. French is too good a writer to ignore her secondary characters. Rosalind Devlin, for instance, is an intense, beguiling character who won't be dismissed as simply an interested party in the case. When Rosalind's around the air crackles with tension. Det. Ryan's behavior and his ability as a detective is undeniably questionable when Rosalind is around. This was another reason, in a growing list, of why I doubted Ryan's integrity and professionalism. Ms. French adds further intrigue by permitting Ryan to narrate the story. He has a healthy ego, like many men, and is rather self-absorbed. He can be kind and thoughtful if he so chooses and quite cruel if he doesn't. He's judgmental and doesn't often consider other's opinions or points of view, valid. He's intelligent but he refuses to admit that he's lonely and troubled until it's obvious to everybody that he's losing his mind.

Ms. French kept me on the edge of my seat, as the novel progressed. I was trying to figure out not only who was the murderer, but if the old and new cases were connected. There are subtle, as well as more obvious suggestions regarding possible suspects sprinkled throughout the story that had me choosing first one person and then another as the perpetrator. Eventually I figured it out, partially. Just as this wasn't a straightforward murder investigation, there wasn't a simple, straightforward resolution. Readers probably could figure out the result but Ms. French keeps things complex and intense similar to real life. This isn't a case of point A to point B and when you get there, you've got your man. As in real life, the road is curvy and some of those curves are hair-pin turns. There are many side roads with plenty of dead ends. A person needs to keep their focus on the case, something most detectives learn and can apply, the good ones, anyway. It's easy to get distracted by some of the tangents and Ms. French puts plenty of interesting tangents in our way!

Ms. French's writing flows beautifully from one page to the next and draws you in to the story. At various points the story is intense, riveting and suspenseful but it's also fun, entertaining and funny. and I totally enjoyed the many references to current pop-culture such as South Park's "Who killed Kenny?" If you haven't read any of Tana French's books yet, I highly recommend you start as soon as possible. I've read some grumblings about the ending of In the Woods although I had no problems with it. I think that Ms. French seemed to run out of steam a bit in a few of the chapters leading up to the end as the story line got a little clunky and inelegant but that's also me being picayune. If you enjoy great mysteries and detective fiction you cannot go wrong with the Edgar Award Winning In the Woods by Tana French.

Tana French's website and Facebook page


  1. I loved this book so much. It is a typical plot when two co-workers go from a friendship to something more complicated, but rarely do you see the kind of tangible chemistry that French creates here. And some people love that ending and some hate it. I was on the love end of the spectrum, and applauded French for sticking to her guns and keeping it far from predictable. Have you read The Likeness or Faithful Place? If not, you must hurry.

  2. As usual, Amy, another wonderful review -- you always lift up the things I'm curious about -- the characters, the feel of the story -- and you have me positively frantic to find this book now! Do you know, is it part of a series or is it a stand alone novel?

  3. When I read this novel, I was taken with how wonderfully slow everything unraveled. I'm not saying that right, but layers were peeled away slowly and it really added to the overall tone of the novel. It took my time reading it, and that was okay. It was that kind of book. Not the kind you rush through.

    However, I never picked up her other books. Criminal.

  4. Ti sent me this book ages ago - I need to make time to get to it. Everyone seems to love it.

  5. This is one of those books I've had for over a year (Jenners sent me hers) and I have not read. I am so thrilled you and so many enjoyed it. Perfect for this time of year. Sounds like I better get to this one soon.

    Get ready for the first snow Amy...LOL Have a great weekend.

  6. I loved this book and I think French just gets better and better. I can't wait for her next book!

  7. I have the first two books in this series, and I NEED to read them. So many people have said that they are amazing and wonderful books with the perfect flavor and ambiance, and now you have confirmed that I need to get to these fast! This was a wonderful review, and I am glad that you enjoyed it so very much!

  8. This sounds like the perfect book for this time of year!

  9. I really need to read this... don't know what I'm waiting for!

  10. I HAD to see what you thought of this … and it seems like you are as a big a fan of it as I was!! Glad the ending didn't bother you. I thought it was very realistic. And isn't it hard to believe that this was her FIRST BOOK? She's such a mature writer. You'll probably love the second book, The Likeness, even more as it focuses on Cassie.

  11. Still need to read this one. Everyone seems to love her.