In the woods

by Tana French

Paperback, 2017






Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl near a Dublin suburb. The case resonates with similarities to a murder committed twenty years before that involved two children and the young Ryan.

Media reviews

Although she overburdens the traditional police-procedural form with the weight of romance, psychological suspense, social history and mythic legend, she sets a vivid scene for her complex characters, who seem entirely capable of doing the unexpected. Drawn by the grim nature of her plot and the lyrical ferocity of her writing, even smart people who should know better will be able to lose themselves in these dark woods.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
In 1984, three 12 year old children in a small Dublin town of Knocknaree do not return home for supper. Alarmed, parents and friends search the nearby woods, which was the children’s favorite playground. Only one, Adam Ryan, is found, back pressed to a tree, shirt ripped, and shoes filled with blood. He has no memory of what happened before he was found. The other children are never found. The family moves; Adam takes on his middle name of Rob.

20 years later, Detective Rob Ryan is a member of the Dublin Murder Squad, working out of the Castle in Dublin. His partner is Cassie Maddox who is his best friend and almost alter ego. The two “catch” a case of a dead 12 year old girl--in Knocknaree.

From an almost standard--certainly nothing truly unusual--beginning of a police procedural, Tana French’s In The Woods rapidly develops into a high- powered, high tension psychological thriller that yet remains true to its police procedural roots. The combination is tremendously effective, as inevitably Rob’s past becomes entangled in the present.

Adding both to the tension and to the overall impact is French’s lyrical but offbeat prose:

This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants.

This contrasts brilliantly with very matter of fact dialogue, in which the two detectives, joined by a third, Sam, work on the case.

The story is narrated by Rob; as the case drags on and Rob becomes ever more unable to fend off his past, his resulting descent into surreality adds a third powerful element to the emotional impact of the harrowing story.

The plot is very good although not outstanding, but that’s not important--what’s important is the interaction of three very believable characters and the relentless buildup of tension in the narration by the three elements mentioned. At one point, the pace seems to hang fire; you begin to wonder if this is ever going anywhere--and then it does.

Unusually, French carries the story on long after the denouement, which normally is a no-no, but it works, wonderfully.

A brilliant debut novel. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
I really loved this book. The writing is beautiful, the characters are interesting and three-dimensional and flawed, and the story line is very interesting. It's not so much about mystery although there is plenty of mystery in it; it is more about the psychology of the crime. The prologue takes you back to the main character's childhood and it is so beautifully rendered that the writing reminded me of Ray Bradbury - pure magic in the imagery and flow of words.

"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland's subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur's palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants, One! Two! Three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and and your best friend's knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in..."

Chapter one takes us back to the present day where we learn that the narrator of this story is a detective in Ireland assigned to the Murder Squad. His life is about to be shaken up by a murder that will send him back to the deep mystery that is his childhood. If you love mysteries, like I do, and you enjoy the process of trying to figure out on your own whodunit, then you might be disappointed with this book at first because you will quickly be able to discern this particular truth. But keep reading because what you will find is that the story itself will keep you on your toes. It is like a Columbo mystery, except that the reader is Columbo - you are waiting for the detectives on the case to catch up with your logical conclusions, but in the meantime you are being treated to a story that is all about peeling layers away and exposing what lies beneath the surface. It is beautifully and breathtakingly done.

"I remember that moment because, if I am honest, I have them so seldom. I am not good at noticing when I'm happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart's desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern."
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LibraryThing member kylenapoli
Excellent, steaming with regret, and completely heartbreaking. If you like your mysteries--or narratives in general--wrapped up in a neat little bow, this one isn't for you. The story is less about solving the mystery and more about the way the past puts a distorting lens over the present, complicating every choice.
LibraryThing member Talbin
In the Woods, by Tana French, is a taut psychological thriller. Outside of Dublin, in a little town called Knocknaree, the body of 12-year-old Katy Devlin is discovered at an archeological dig that is being fast-tracked because a highway is planned for the site. She was murdered and sexually assaulted, then placed on an ancient sacrificial stone. Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are called to the scene, but unbeknownst to everyone, Ryan's childhood is inextricably bound with the woods of Knocknaree. As a child, he had been playing in the woods with his two friends. Jamie and Peter disappeared, but Rob (then known as Adam) was found - terrified, fingernails digging into a tree, blood filling his shoes, and no memory of what had happened. Twenty years later, Ryan still doesn't remember what happened, but he feels compelled to take Katy's case even though he knows he would be thrown off the squad if they found out his potential connection to site. As Ryan and Maddox work the case, it brings up more and more issues for Ryan, eventually straining his extremely close relationship with Cassie and bringing back fragments of memory that never quite fall into place. Meanwhile, the investigation never quite clicks. The suspects include everyone from the archeologists working at the site to the developers who stand to profit from the highway to the victim's family itself.

In the Woods is the type of book that gets under your skin. The book is written in the first person, and our narrator is Rob Ryan, whose viewpoint (from the reader's perspective) is fundamentally flawed. He is too close to the case, he has no memory of what happened to him when he was 12, and he even tells us in the first chapter, "What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this - two things: I crave truth. And I lie." I normally am not a huge fan of the first person narrator in mysteries. No real theoretical reason, really, just that I've found in the past that the author often can't (or doesn't) handle the paradoxes inherent in a first person narrator very well. However, French is up to the task. Because Ryan is our narrator, we are never quite sure what is "true" and what we are seeing through his eyes. This leaves the author just as off-kilter as Ryan and the other characters in the book (especially Cassie Maddox). We only know Ryan's reasons and rationalizations, which make a big difference as the story progresses.

Although I think, perhaps, French tried to bring in one or two too many threads into the story, and I think the eventual whodunnit was perhaps not as effective as it could have been, I really enjoyed In the Woods. French does a wonderful job of drawing unique characters and really getting into their heads, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
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LibraryThing member JGoto
Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods, is all you could ask for in a murder mystery. It’s got suspense, romance, characters you can care about and a strong sense of place – the Irish countryside where the murder occurs. French’s descriptions are vivid and sensuous.

“My steps were padded by deep, springy layers of fallen leaves; when I stopped and turned over a chunk with my shoe, I smelled rich rot and saw dark wet earth, acorn caps, the pale frantic wriggle of a worm. Birds darted and called in the branches, and small warning scurries exploded as I passed.”

The body of a raped and murdered twelve year old girl is found on the site of an archeological dig that is next to what’s left of the woods in Knocknaree, a suburb of Dublin. Twenty years earlier three children had gone missing in those same woods. One boy was found, covered in blood and with no memory of what happened to his two friends, who remained missing. The boy, Adam Ryan, left the Dublin area, only to return many years later as a homicide detective, who gets assigned the case of the twelve year old’s murder. Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, work the case, which may or may not have a connection to Ryan’s past. Almost more interesting than the crime, which involves family secrets and local politics, is the relationship between the two detectives. French has written a second mystery pairing Ryan and Maddox together again. I can’t wait to read it!
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LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: Twenty years ago, three twelve-year-old children ran off to play in the woods near their Dublin suburb. When they don't return home, a search party is mounted, and only one of the children is found, digging his fingernails into a tree trunk in terror, his t-shirt torn in four diagonal slashes, wearing sneakers filled with someone else's blood, and with absolutely no memory of whatever happened to him and his friends. That boy has grown up to be Detective Rob Ryan, and although he has never recovered his memories, he's not particularly traumatized by the event, and he works on the Murder squad with his partner Cassie Maddox with nary a problem. That is, until they get handed a case of a young girl found murdered at an archaeological dig... in the same woods where his childhood friends went missing. Although two decades separate the cases, Ryan can't quite shake the conviction that they're connected... and that the latest murder will wind up rattling everything in his life that he had previously thought was stable.

Review: This book affected me more profoundly than anything I've read for a long time. I read the first half of the book relatively slowly, taking my time and savoring French's wonderful way with the language, but then I sat and read the entire second half of the book in one evening... and it may have been the fact that I was up way past my normal bedtime, or the fact that I had been sitting still for so long, or my scratchy contacts, or something, but man, the last hundred pages just absolutely wrung me out, left me feeling sad and heavy and hollow, and with a sore throat like I'd been holding back tears for a few hours. That's not something I expect from a mystery (not something I expect from any book ever, really), but here's the thing: relatively little of that feeling had to do with the actual mystery itself.

The wonderful thing about this novel is that while it's ostensibly a mystery, it's really a character-driven story dressed up in a mystery's clothing. I fell in love with Ryan and Maddox very soon after meeting them, and watching the ways the investigation affected them was far more compelling than watching the investigation itself. It's not that the murder case wasn't interesting - I'll cop to watching the odd episode of a police procedural now and again, and In the Woods's case was well-done, with all of the clues on the table and the solution complex enough not to be obvious, but not so complex as to be implausible. It's just that Ryan and Maddox are the heart of the story, and they're enough to keep things ticking along during the inevitable part where the investigation stalls out - in fact, the only parts I thought dragged were the parts where the focus was too much on the details of the police work and not enough on the people doing it. Likewise, the murder is essentially solved with almost 100 pages left in the book, but it doesn't feel like French is dragging out the denoument - because while the murder's over, the story wasn't. The ending didn't leave me completely satisfied, but it didn't exactly leave me dissatisfied, either, and I can see that other ways of wrapping things up wouldn't have had the same narrative power... And judging by how I felt when I finished, power is one thing In the Woods has in spades.

Another thing Tana French has in abundance is a flair for wordcraft. It's very rare that I write down quotes from the book I'm reading, but this book made me want to. The only reason I didn't is that I realized by page 20 that there was a paragraph I wanted to copy out verbatim from every page, and that by spending the time copying them down, I was missing out on actually reading them. There's something about French's language that is so beautiful and evocative that you just want to roll around in it, let it sit on your tongue and in your brain, wrap yourself up in it like a pile of warm laundry. I can't quite believe that a story this well crafted and this evocatively written is a first novel - but it is, and I will absolutely be reading the rest of French's work. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Between this and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I'm starting to rethink my aversion to detective mysteries. Although they've got some differences, if you like one, I think you'll like the other, and if you like your stories character-driven, I bet you'll like both, no matter what your favorite genre.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
I am finding this an incredibly difficult book to review without giving away major plot points. In fact, I am going to have to forego that particular policy for this review because my feelings about the book are directly tied to what occurs within its pages. Therefore, consider yourself forewarned. There may be spoilers ahead.

The book is a murder mystery and a psychological thriller, and the two are not necessarily the same plot line. Ryan's past, and the effects of that ongoing mystery, impact every action Ryan makes both in the past and in what the reader sees. The suspense lies in the idea of Ryan being able to recognize the damage done in 1984 before it ruins the current murder investigation. Because of this dichotomy, I found myself alternating between cheering for Ryan. I hoped he would be the hero who conquers his demons and solves both mysteries by the last page. I also wanted to shake and slap him upside the head when he started to fall apart.

The shocking conclusion to the story does provoke its own questions. Does the hero deserve a happy ending? Was it justified? While it shakes every idea I ever held regarding endings and what is supposed to happen in them, I do feel that In the Woods does have an appropriate resolution. The point of the story is not whether Ryan ever remembers what occurred in the woods in 1984. Rather, it is about realizing the psychological impact that day had on him and the rest of his life. The event in 1984 and the current-day murder are just two events that help him confront his demons.

Throughout the novel, he faces tests of basic assumptions he has held over the years - never giving thought to what he lost that day, never considering what his life would have been like had nothing ever occurred. This psychological torment is both fascinating and painful to watch, and yet a reader cannot turn away. I contribute this to Ms. French's ability to write. Each sentence was so vivid in its clarity and impact that I felt I was an active participant physically present in each scene of the investigation. She has chosen each word for maximum impact on the reader, and she is very successful at it. Each sentence literally compels the reader to continue to read, resulting in many a late night.

In the end, I found this an absolutely fascinating novel. I was sufficiently impressed with Ms. French's writing to add her next book to my wish list. I loved the emotional roller coaster I was on while reading; it kept me actively engaged and eager to continue to read. The differences between the primary and secondary plot are subtle and masterfully maneuvered. I will be highly recommending this to anyone who enjoys psychological mysteries.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This was a thumping good mystery. Well, 3/4 of it anyway, until it fell apart. Here's the premise: 12-year-old Katy Devlin is found dead, the apparent victim of foul play. Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are assigned to the case. It just so happens that twenty years earlier, two of Rob's 12-year-old friends disappeared from the very same housing estate. Rob was found, bloody and alone. The others were never found; the case was so notorious Rob changed his name and went to boarding school. Rob remembers nothing from that horrible day, but can't help wondering if the two cases are linked in some way. He begins a parallel investigation, without revealing his personal interest to his superiors. And there's one more angle: a land use dispute over a new motorway, with a barely perceptible whiff of corruption.

With three concurrent investigations, the reader meets a myriad of characters and joins Rob and Cassie in poring through forensic evidence. As with any good mystery, we begin making connections and we develop theories. And we come to like Rob and Cassie: they make a great team on the job, and have an unusually deep friendship.

But there are a couple of things that go wrong in this book. I will describe them without spoilers, although it's difficult to convey their full impact. The first problem is Rob. My husband and I have a recurring and inconclusive conversation about whether authors can write authentically about a character of the opposite sex. I suspect this book is one where most men would say about Rob, "guys aren't like that." It's not that he had a highly developed feminine side, he just did and said things a typical guy wouldn't do, especially with Cassie (I'm sorry I can't be more specific). Second, there was a character whose true self was revealed when the case was solved, but their voice wasn't authentic, and they had improbable traits given some basic facts we already knew about them.

Lots of people would probably disagree with me about this. The mystery was realistic, and the book was a page-turner from start to finish. I enjoyed reading it. So if you're intrigued, I say go ahead and read it. And then let's talk about it!
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LibraryThing member invisiblelizard
Not bad. I picked up this book because it appeared on some website's list of "Thrillers That Even Literary Snobs Will Enjoy." (Or something to that effect.) Not that I consider myself in that exact category, but I do feel I have certain standards when it comes to the books I read. I like good writing, believable characters (who do something interesting) and a plot at least strong enough to keep me interested (it can be minimal, but I need something to pull me along). I have to say, the first half of In the Woods fit those criteria and was quite good. Unfortunately, at the half-way mark, two things happened to turn "quite good" into simply "not bad."

1) Tana French threw in a couple of big clues as to who the "bad guy" was. I won't spoil anything here, but it was sort of obvious. From that point onward, I lost interest in the whodunit part of the story. (Funny enough, later in the book French breaks the fourth wall and says to us [we the readers], through her main character, that "[this person] fooled you, too." Sorry Tana. Not really.)

2) French forced her main character, Rob, to go in a direction he clearly didn't want to go. I see this often enough. Writers know they need their character to zig, but they've written a guy who consistently zags, such that later, the zig she writes, when forced, feels foreign.

People have written about the ending (minor spoiler alert here) being a bit somber. Actually, I liked the turn it took, but (per point 2 above) it didn't feel right. Rob felt like two different people. The Rob from the first half of the book wouldn't know the second-half Rob from Adam. (Ha ha. That's an in-joke for anyone who's read the book.)

So yeah. Not bad. A bit obvious. A bit forced. Besides that, the writing was decent. This "Literary Snob" had fun reading it. The first half of it, anyway.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers …” (5)

A young girl is found murdered at the site of the Knocknaree archaeological dig near Dublin, her body carefully splayed on a stone altar. She is the daughter of a local man who has organized vocal protests against the motorway which will soon obliterate the grounds of the ancient dig. Motive? Or does the altar suggest something more sinister at play? Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox of Dublin’s Murder Squad head up the ensuing investigation. But Detective Ryan is unsettled working in the woods of Knocknaree. He has a secret of his own: at twelve years old, he was adventuring in the woods with his two best friends when something happened. The friends were never seen again. He moved away, changed his name, disappeared into anonymity. But now …

“I was an intruder here now, and I had a deep prickling sense that my presence had instantly been marked and that the wood was watching me, with an equivocal collective gaze, not yet accepting or rejecting; reserving judgement.” (378)

French’s writing is smart and appealing, and In the Woods is an impressive debut novel. I’m not sure it needed to be as long as it is, and the ending is a little loose for my taste; but nonetheless this is well worth the read. Recommended!
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This debut novel won the Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Edgar Awards, and I thought they were well-deserved.

Although this is a police procedural mystery, it has literary qualities uncommon in the genre. French begins by describing the summer when a pivotal crime takes place:

"…this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants, One! two! three! This summer will never end.”

The story is narrated by 30-year-old murder detective Adam Robert Ryan. He is the survivor of a crime committed in August of 1984 when he and two of his friends, all aged twelve, were playing in the woods. Only Adam came back, covered in blood. He never remembered what happened, and was afraid to try.

When another child is found dead in the same area eighteen years later, Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox draw the case. Ryan and Cassie have become best friends, but no more than that – at first. As the case heats up and Ryan starts to get sporadic memories back, he gets close to a nervous breakdown, and all his relationships as well as his job become threatened. He never knew how happy he had been prior to this case, until it was over….

Evaluation: French is not only an excellent wordsmith, but is expert at character studies as well. At one point Ryan says, “I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.” Indeed, French draws her characters with warts and all, making them that more realistic for doing so. And yet, in spite of their failings, you can’t help but like Ryan and Cassie and hope for the best for them. In the end, while you desperately wish this turned out more like a fairy tale, you recognize that the author told the better story.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Obviously Tana French was not writing a Hollywood movie. The narrator becomes quite an unappealing guy, and where's the tie ups for all the loose endings? I'm ambivalent about mysteries. I've never known someone who was murdered or who was a murderer, so as far as I'm concerned they don't really represent my life. On the other hand they are interesting and keep the reader guessing. So what does Tana French do but write a novel about people who might actually exist. Yes there is a mystery, more than one, with all the attendant interest that provokes, but more than that there are real people involved on all sides. You know how they say in a play if you see a gun in the first act someone is going to get shot in the third? Well, in this novel you see lots of things, some lead to ends, some just lead to more things. Characters act in both expected and very unexpected ways. Victims and perpetrators have back stories, and then there are more back stories, and then there are "what the heck?" Sometimes a story ends with a very contrived lead in to the next novel. French leaves us wanting more but not directing us where to find it. This is just about a perfect mystery.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
A routine day at the office becomes anything but routine when Murder Squad Detectives Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan take a call reporting the discovery of a child's body on an archaeological site in Knocknaree, a small community outside Dublin. Twenty years earlier, two children the same age as the murdered child had disappeared from the same location, leaving behind a third child too traumatized to remember what had happened to his friends. Rob Ryan was known as Adam then, but only his partner, Cassie, is aware of his connection to the cold case. Are the two cases connected? Will Adam/Rob finally learn the answer to the mystery he's lived with for twenty years?

By the time I reached the last 100 pages, I had trouble putting the book down. I was absorbed by the story, even though I was often irritated with Rob and Cassie. They behaved more like teenagers than like professionals. In the real world, Rob would never have touched this case. If he hadn't been on the case, though, there wouldn't have been a story, or at least not this story. Other than that, I found the characters very believable, almost disturbingly so. I've actually come across a person like the most chilling character in the book, and the descriptions of this person's behavior and motives really got to me.

This is apparently the first book in a series. The author has already published a second book featuring some of the same characters. However, the book reads like a stand-alone novel. It has the potential to be a good film, given the right cast.
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LibraryThing member etbm2003
Five stars for the beautiful writing, but one for the dissatisfaction I experienced in the end. I loved the ride, but did not appreciate the almost total lack of a destination.
LibraryThing member rfewell
Good mystery -- I don't usually read or like mysteries, but this one was fun. Set in modern day Ireland, a young boy was the sole survivor of a possible abduction of a group of pre-teens. He grows up to be a detective on the Murder squad of the police force and becomes deeply involved in a murder investigation that takes place at the site of the previous crime...Great characters, great story.… (more)
LibraryThing member athenaharmony
This book grabbed me from the start and I loved it right to the end. I felt a strong connection to the main characters and I actually felt myself tearing up when there was conflict between them. What happened between Ryan and Maddox made me incredibly sad. Their friendship seemed so beautiful to me that I was devastated with how it ended. I thought Ryan was being a bit of a hardheaded jerk, really, and I didn't really get him when it came to how he treated Cassie, but the whole bittersweet ending of their partnership was heartbreaking and poignant. The scene in which he calls her in the middle of the night, right at the end, brought me as close to crying as anything in the whole story had. It made me sad, but it was beautifully written and stayed with me after I finished the story. French writes very human characters. She is also great with description, and writes beautiful scenes from an innocent Irish childhood that captivated me. I'm not Irish, but the beauty and thrill of the natural world that she described made me briefly wish I had been.

I loved the twist (which I won't give away, obviously). It was deliciously horrifying, and, looking back, I could kind of see how it lurked around the edges of the story the whole time. Well done, French. I would never want such a thing to happen to anyone in real life, of course, but, in the safety of fiction, it was great. The book is, indeed, long, but French keeps tempting you with leads and bits of information, keeping you hooked through the whole thing.

I would consider buying this book, even though I've read it already. Highly recommended to anyone who likes murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, stories set in Ireland, or anything hovering around this book's genre.… (more)
LibraryThing member justabookreader
Tana French is a new to me author. I’m sorry I waited so long to read her too. I kept seeing rave reviews of her books and now I know why. She deserves the praise.

In Dublin, Rob Ryan is a detective waiting for a case. He’s spent time and effort waiting for the perfect case that will make his career and when that one drops in his lap, it’s not at all what he wanted. In a small town outside of Dublin called Knocknaree, a 12 year old girl is found murdered at an archeological site. Her father is the leader of the group protesting the building of a roadway through the town and it leaves everyone wondering if the murder could be a warning to him to cease his fight. When that leads nowhere, Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox are forced to look elsewhere for answers. And all through the investigation Rob is trying to come to terms with his past. When he was a small child, he and two other friends went missing in the same woods that are now being searched for clues to the current murder. He wants his memories to return, in fact wills them to, but nothing useful comes of it and his life, the one he carefully planned down to his wardrobe, comes tumbling down around him.

There is so much going on in this book and in the end it doesn’t feel as if it’s enough. The details are fantastic and the way French introduces you to her characters --- opening up slowly, peeling back layers --- you see just how complicated and messed up they all are in this book. They’re all broken in some way and trying hard to make sure the lives of others are at the very least put back in place with answers to their questions. Rob and Cassie know they can’t fix others, and especially not themselves, but they try to cover every single thread that’s available to them even when it leads places they don’t want to go.

Honestly, while the murder that takes place is solved, and satisfactorily at that, with a suspect I didn’t see coming but should have once the story got going, what I wanted to know about was what happened to the kids twenty years ago in the woods of Knocknaree. There’s no answer and I was OK with that but still wanted to know because it was so tantalizing. It was too interesting to just let go and my mind kept making up scenarios. Rob does make attempts at remembering and those snippets only add more to the mystery and unwanted drama to his life. You know the questions won’t be answered although you do get enough detail to round out the story. I liked how the disappearance almost had a mythical reason to it but then again, what do the memories of a young boy really mean when the event that brought on the memories was a traumatic one?

I know this book isn’t necessarily a series but I do know if I pick up another Tana French book it will still be the same sort of setting but with some old and new characters. You know what, bring it on.
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LibraryThing member austcrimefiction
Author: Tana French
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Edition released: June 2007
ISBN: 978-0-340-92475-4
485 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

Is it really only a month or so since IN THE WOOD was released in paperback? There's a lot of talk about this debut book, and you should be listening, the positive talk is highly deserved.

In 1984, in Knocknaree, County Dublin, Ireland, three 12 year old children - Adam, Peter and Jamie (Germaine) are playing. They've been life long friends and they go everywhere together. They are seemingly leading an idyllic childhood, with the housing estate they live in filled with young families and other children, backing onto the wood in which they regularly explore, run and play. Until the day that Peter and Jamie disappear, leaving Adam, seemingly unharmed, but terrified into total and complete amnesia. Peter and Jamie are never found. Adam and his parents move away, Adam is sent to boarding school and over the years he morphs into Rob Ryan - returned to Ireland with a posh school British accent, a policeman, attached to the local murder squad.

Cassie Maddox is only the 4th woman to join the Murder Squad, and she's young, straight out of Undercover Drugs operations - she's not exactly conventional and she's regarded with immense suspicion by many of the longer term Murder Squad Members. Cassie and Rob end up as partners and close friends. Friends only, despite the rumours and innuendo flying around.

When the body of a young girl is found on the edges of Knockarnee and the wood, Cassie is the only person who knows about Rob's past. Cassie and Rob are joined by a third investigator - Sam - and the three of them try to discover the identity of the killer of young, promising ballerina Katie. Rob's past increasingly haunts him and it starts to affect his decisions and reactions to the current day.

There are layers within layers and stories within stories in this book. Not a book for fans of the quick resolution, massive amounts of action style, IN THE WOODS weaves and wanders through an investigation that bogs down quickly with no easy suspects or motives for Katie's death. Interspersed with the investigation is a fascinating character study of 3 people working closely together. Rob and Cassie have a close, intimate relationship, without a romantic element. There is something simultaneously engaging about a close friendship that doesn't instantly morph into a sexual or romantic relationship, at the same time there's something slightly off-putting about the intimacy and closeness of these two people. There's something in Cassie's background that has obviously affected her life, we know only too well what has happened to Rob in his childhood. Into this twosome, Sam is pushed as a result of the investigation. Sam's pretty uncomplicated compared to the other two, a normal robust childhood, a slightly dodgy Uncle is about as difficult as it gets in Sam's life. He slips into the investigating threesome easily in some ways, and in other ways he's an observer, secluded and separated by the closeness of Cassie and Rob.

Overall it's the people that populate IN THE WOODS which makes it really interesting. So many people in this book are just not quite right, not exactly what they first seem to be be. Katie's life seems normal for a 12 year old girl, but there's also something that doesn't quite add up. Her sisters - the same. Her parents seem to have been loving, concerned parents, but there's also something just ever so slightly wrong. Rob seems so caring, so kind, a SNAG, but he's also haunted by what he can't remember of his past (and the snippets that he does). Does that past and that uncertainty make him vulnerable, stupid or just human. Cassie's past is also revealed, but is she a ruthless investigator or is she just as vulnerable in her own way.

There are some elements of IN THE WOODS that do drag a bit, it does bog down a little in some places and get dangerously close to repetitiveness or over-egging the angst pudding, but ultimately IN THE WOODS is fascinating. It's one of those books that twists and turns and moves and shape shifts to the point where you really don't know what you did or didn't think you knew a few pages before. And there is something for all sorts of readers to see, identify with, get annoyed about, smile and nod in agreement with, wonder about, worry about. It's also one of those books that ends with not everything nicely answered / tied up / resolved - just like life really.
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LibraryThing member KatieANYC
Where have I been on Tana French?? This may be the best mystery I've ever read. The whodunit itself is gripping, but French's real talent lies in her ability to construct a narrator at once likable, able to tell a complex and compelling story, and deeply unreliable.

In the reader reviews I've read, there seem to be two main complaints about this novel. The first is that some readers figured out who the killer was before the reveal. I didn't, but that's not really the point. I think you can argue that Cassie suspected the truth all along, and that it's Ryan's blindness that's actually the crux of the story, more than the mystery itself. Also, when the full story of the kind of hell the Devlin family was living in is put together, it certainly lives up to the horror French foreshadows.

The second complaint is of course that the mystery of Jaimie and Peter's disappearance is not resolved. I was desperate to know the truth too, but the closer Ryan and Cassie got to solving Katy's murder the less likely it seemed that it had anything to do with that early tragedy, and the more doubtful I was that we'd ever learn what happened. I think French gives us a lot of warning that this is going to stay unresolved, and since she continues to write stories in this world, I'm sure she'll come back to it at some point.

The real tip-off that the earlier mystery was going to go unsolved is that Ryan is narrating from after the case is closed, and it's clear that he has little awareness of how deeply he is still feeling that trauma. Throughout the course of the novel he recreates his childhood pattern, befriending a woman (Cassie) and a man (Sam). They become inseparable, drinking, cooking, and laughing together after every day of work. Their bond directly mirrors that of Ryan, Jaimie, and Peter, and without realizing it, Ryan makes sure it ends the same way. He sabotages his relationships with both Cassie and Sam, and in the end he is alone while they are together, as he was all those years ago in the woods. The way French embeds this into the story, so deeply and unobtrusively, is the mark of an incredibly deft and impressive writer.
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LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
Rating: 3.5 of 5

It took me two months to rate and review In the Woods. Why? Simply, the ending. I'm a huge fan of books and movies that don't tie everything up with a neat little bow. But all those stories had one crucial element: I did not walk away feeling cheated or disappointed. The writers of those stories knew how to satisfy my needs and certain expectations whilst resolving little or nothing. French did not; in fact, her ending ruined what would've been a five-star mystery.

So why the high-ish rating? Simply, the brilliant writing. There were several times during In the Woods when I wanted to stop reading. Not because of the prose or the plot (or even the unlikable characters) but because the pace stood still - even in moments of potential breakthroughs and ah-ha moments. It never felt immediate - the conflict, the main character's trauma, anyone's choices, etc. Yet, I couldn't stop because trickster that she is, French knew how to use a few choice words to keep the hooks deep. Unfortunately the hook tended to rely heavily on my need to know what happened to Ryan as a child. (The unspoken promise that I would be rewarded if only I made it to page 429.) The catalyst for Ryan's return to Knocknaree and subsequent descent into obsession with his own past - the mystery of Katy's murder - wasn't as intriguing as the mystery surrounding Adam Ryan and his friends. Frankly, I had almost no curiosity about Katy's death and what actually happened to her.

Here's the thing, French broke my trust. The trust I place in every storyteller: If I sit and listen quietly and patiently enough, my time won't be wasted; I'll leave satisfied. Some writers do that with a likable protagonist and a traditional point a to b to c style. Other writers satisfy with a foul protagonist and an unconventional style. There doesn't have to be a clean, pretty ending with answers to everything and concrete resolution. But the ending MUST satisfy the reader. So if you're the writer of a mystery that features two or more cases, and you don't plan to solve all cases, you best choose the most compelling one.

Sadly, I don't see myself picking up another French novel; I wouldn't want to risk spending my time on another disappointment. Not when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other stories that won't waste my time.

Status updates:

7/21/2012, page 24, The mystery is a compelling one. I definitely have to know what happened that summer in 1984.

7/22/2012, page 429, Are you serious?!! That ending might possibly be the most I've been disappointed at an ending in ... since I can remember. I feel robbed, honestly. Gonna have to think about this one before I can select the rating.
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LibraryThing member WeeziesBooks
This first book in the series "In The Woods" by Tana French, with Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, detectives in the Dublin Murder Squad was enjoyable and kept my interest as I listened to the audio download on my daily walks. I enjoyed the narrator and found the relationships between the members of the murder squad to be a big part of the story. The movements in time with memories and flashbacks, and connections between the past and present with two similar crimes was easy to follow.

I was a bit taken off guard by the swift and uncompromising changes in relationships within the main characters, so I will have to read more in the series to see if there is a greater connection for me with the individual members of the squad. I did like the interactions with the archeological dig team and the controversial issue of building a motorway over an archeological dig site, which touches upon the age old tension of today's needs competing with the need to preserve treasures and memories of the past.

I am just starting the second book, The Likeness and hope it will be a good listening experience as I purchased all three of the audio books. I would give this book about a 3.7 so give it 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member pam.enser
The last 50-100 pages of this book was such a slap in the face. I was so enthralled by the language of the story, the characters, their relationship, and the two mysteries that unfolded.

But then everything went downhill.
Typical Story- boy and girl are partners, they're best friends. boy suffers from post(waaaay post) traumatic stress because his 2 best friends disappear when he's 12 and can't remember. boy clings to the one thing he knows- the girl. boy sleeps with girl. boy wakes up in the morning and regrets sleeping with the girl.

And then he becomes what every girl can't STAND. He becomes the boy who can't look the girl in the eye anymore, he can't have a normal conversation anymore. Everything has gone wrong and he doesn't believe the girl when she tells him nothing has to change, she's not looking for a relationship.

So the boy loses his best friend, and not to mention his job (for other STUPID reasons). And then finally boy realizes when he hears that the girl has gotten engaged that he's still in love with her. So he drinks heavily and calls her at 4am.

Boys are so stupid.

AND they never solved one of the mysteries. That pissed me off even more. As angry as I seem, I enjoyed the ride, but I wish I could have given 3.5 stars. It's not quite a 3 and not quite a 4. I would still recommend it.

Jill, read this even though I'm angry at this book. Because then we can talk about my being angry.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Many mysteries entwine characters and plot, but few delve so deeply into the mind of the protagonist as this one. And few books have ever documented such intensifying, escalating levels of psychic pain. Dublin murder squad detective Rob and his partner Cassie are assigned to investigate a child killing in his hometown of Knocknaree. Adding an immediate level of complication is Rob's background: as a twelve year old, he was attacked in the very same woods, and his two best friends went missing and have never been found. He pursues the new case in semi-disguise from his old neighbors, as he now uses his middle name and is not, on any level, the same boy who was left in the woods decades earlier.

What's extraordinary here is the utter honesty of Rob's inner thoughts. He has had to peel off many internal layers to survive, as he was sent to boarding school after being found unconscious and with no memory of the attack, no way to assist the investigators, and all this weighs heavily on the investigation. His powerful relationship with Cassie is a complete partnership, as they exchange the most painful of memories and find a bit of peace in their platonic devotion to each other. However, Rob is confident one day and totally paralyzed the next, as he begins to recall the closeness of the group of three friends from his youth and the repercussions from their violent separation. Having forced the tragedy from his conscience - why did he alone survive - as the new murder causes it all to rise to the surface, his relationship with Cassie is threatened. The investigation itself, centered at an archeological dig, throws off several red herrings, and ultimately the resolution becomes secondary to the second ruination of Rob's entire life.

Quotes: “There is a side of me that is most intensely attracted to women who annoy me.”

“I am not good at noticing when I am happy, except in retrospect.”
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LibraryThing member miyurose
Wow. I have so much I want to say about this book, but I don’t want to give anything away! I love the narration in this novel. Rob (Adam) is telling you his story, but one of the first things he tells you is that he is a liar. So can you believe everything he says and hears? When Rob and Cassie are handed Katy Devlin’s case, Rob is brought face to face with the childhood he can’t remember. As the story and the case progresses, you see the stress of his hidden identity and the events he can’t remember weighing down on him. You can easily find yourself lost in Rob’s downward spiral. The little subtle bits of foreshadowing work incredibly well, making you wonder constantly. I really loved the relationship between Rob and Cassie, even if he does screw it up in the end. I have a friend like that that I’m 100% completely comfortable with, so I could relate to their ease with each other. Finally, the writing here is just beautiful… lyrical and haunting… and the ending leaves you wanting more.

"There was a time when I believed 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 can’t recommend this book enough.
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LibraryThing member bnewcomer
Well-written and captivating for a spell, but as the investigation falls apart, so does the book. Towards the end, it was a little excruciating. Many of the characters feel realistic in some spots, and endearing (or not), but then act in completely unexpected ways, and for longer than is reasonable, or comfortable, or believable -- acting against reason in the manner of characters in a bad horror film, but in the wrong context. Still, the atmosphere is often compelling, and the writing is enjoyable for the first 1/3 or maybe 2/3rds.… (more)



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