Thursday, June 05, 2014

In the Woods

In the Woods is the 2007 debut novel of Tana French. It's a mystery involving a detective in his late 20s (30s?) who, as a 12 year old boy, survived whatever it was that took his companions in the woods. He has no memory of it still, but still it haunts him. And now the body of a recently-reported-missing 12-year-old girl has been found in that same location. It won the award for best first novel from the Edgar, the Macavity, the Barry and the Anthony Awards. That record ought to be enough to entice the reader. How did that tv commercial go? "Try it, you'll like it."

And I did like it.

The story is told as the main character looks back over it. It was a quick read, and I found it interesting as I was reading. I saw through one of the characters almost immediately and apparently I wasn't supposed to. When the main character finally gets it, he seems to think we should also be surprised. It certainly didn't spoil the story, but it surprised me that a police detective could've been so clueless about it.

There are more in this loose series, all of which take place in Ireland. The second book begins several months after this first one ends and features Cassie, who is the partner of the point-of-view detective in the first one. The third one focuses on an officer who is mentioned in the first one and works closely with Cassie in the second. The fourth picks up a character from the third book and gives him charge of an investigation. They all sound interesting -and this one was "unputdownable" as one reviewer says- but for some reason I'm not aching to rush out and buy the rest. I may yet read them all. Some later time. It's just that I have so many books I haven't read yet already on my shelf.

from the back of the book:
The debut novel of an astonishing new voice in psychological suspense

In Tana French's powerful debut thriller, three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods. Hours later, their mothers' calls go unanswered. 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, Detective Rob Ryan -the found boy, who has kept his past a secret- and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods. 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.
selected quotes:
There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.
I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities.
"...I don't believe in the Church, do you get me? Any church. Religion exists to keep people in their place and paying into the collection plate."
Say say my playmate, come out and play with me, climb up my apple tree... Two two, the lily-white boys, clothed all in green-o, one is one and all alone and evermore shall be so...
You're the perfect person for this case, Rosalind had said to me, and the words were still ringing in my head as I watched her go. Even now, I wonder whether subsequent events proved her completely right or utterly and horribly wrong, and what criteria one could possibly use to tell the difference.

There's a mention of Elvis about half-way through:""Thank you very much, thankyouverymuch, "Sam said in a deep Elvis voice, grinning."" Music by Michelle Shocked is played in someone's home during a social encounter. At one point they play the game Cranium. The TV prison series Oz gets a mention.

Kirkus Reviews concludes "When not lengthily bogged down in angst, a readable, non-formulaic police procedural with a twist. It’s ultimately the confession of a damaged man." The EuroCrime reviewer says, "I have often read the word "unputdownable" to describe a book, but in this case it is true: I was glad I started the book on a weekend and had no other commitments, so I could finish it in a day." The Washington Post calls it "a long book, densely layered and meticulously imagined" and says, "Whether the ending succeeds will likely be debated, but French's decisions are unexpected and unnerving -- a bold close to a daring novel."

There's a reading guide here.


  1. Someone recommended me Tana French back when I still said I didn't like mysteries. Never got around to reading her though, but this does sound interesting. Also, I am unusually bad at guessing who the bad guy is, so I might actually be surprised, too. I love the quote on 'perfection.'

    1. I hope you like it. It's character-driven, and I like that. So even if you happen to guess something about one of the characters, there's plenty more to interest you.