Tana French – In the Woods
125. In the Woods by Tana French (2007)
Dublin Murder Squad, Book 1
Length: 432 pages
Started: 16 October 2009
Finished: 19 October 2009
Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? I remember seeing it around the blogs (don’t remember whose; it was at least a year ago), and people seemed to love it, so I thought I’d try it.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 13 November 2008.
A brutal murder
might expose more secrets than
Ryan’s ready for.
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.
Other Reviews: Big A Little A, Book Addiction, Book Chatter and Other Stuff, Books and Movies, Books I Done Read, Care’s Online Book Club, Caribousmom, Confessions of a Bibliophile, Crime Scraps, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Jen’s Book Thoughts, Jenny’s Books, Kittling: Books, Lesley’s Book Nook, Linus’s Blanket, Ms. Bookish, Musings of a Bookish Kitty, My Random Acts of Reading, NextRead, On My Bookshelf, Paperback Reader, Popin’s Lair, Presenting Lenore, Reading Matters, S. Krishna’s Books, Sam’s Book Blog, Stephanie’s Written Word, Whimpulsive
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First Line: Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s.
Cover Thoughts: Although the book itself was, at any given point, only very rarely creepy, it did have a sinister undertone running through it that is reflected very nicely by the cover. (We’ll ignore the fact that the trees had leaves on them when both incidents occurred.)
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 27: ““Her head’s smashed in, but Cooper found petechial hemorrhaging and some possible ligature marks on her neck, too, so we’ll have to wait for the post for cause of death.”” – A small purplish spot on a body surface, such as the skin or a mucous membrane.
- p. 36: ““Finds,” said Hunt, flapping a hand at the shelves. “I suppose . . . Well, no, maybe some other time. Some very nice jettons and clothing hooks.”” – an inscribed counter or token.
- p. 105: “A rustle, and the beams skidding up to cross on a pair of golden eyes, rocking wild and luminous only a few trees away; all of us yelling, and Jamie leaping up to fire a spare satsuma as the thing bounded away with a crash of leaves.” – A seedless mandarin orange native to Japan and the hardiest commercial citrus fruit.
- p. 110: ““That _________ lad used to be a bit of a bowsie, so he did, but the moment he got that young one in the family way – sure, he wasn’t the same fella at all.”” – a Dublin term-for a scumbag/Kancker/scanger.
- p. 208: “A drop had got caught in her eyelashes and a black mascara tear trickled to her cheekbone, making her look like a modish little Pierrette.” – the female counterpart of a Pierrot, usually accompanying him, as in an entertainment or masquerade.
- p. 217: ““Little gurriers,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said with relish. “Spitting on the ground and all. My father always said that was a sure sign of bad rearing, spitting.”” – Irish pejorative for a person who is associated with petty criminality.
- p. 248: ““If that motorway doesn’t go through Knocknaree, and fast,” Sam said succinctly, “the boy’s banjaxed.”” – demolished; ruined.