299 of 327 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel with an Annoying Ending
This novel takes a bit to get going, but once it does you're sucked into a really great mystery novel. The character are flawed but still very real and you find yourself caring about what's happening to them, asking yourself why they are making decisions that are obviously bad, and annoyed when you don't get the ending you've been waiting for since page one. Even...
Published on August 12, 2007 by Amazon Customer
417 of 487 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and disappointing
I'm usually pretty bad at figuring out whodunnits, but honestly I solved the Katy Devlin murder at around the halfway point -- it was just too obvious. That was a major failure of the book made worse when Ryan addresses the reader at the end and suggests that we have been just as befuddled as he was. French perplexingly seems to suggest that she's pulled a "Murder of...
Published on May 29, 2008 by A reader
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299 of 327 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel with an Annoying Ending,
This novel takes a bit to get going, but once it does you're sucked into a really great mystery novel. The character are flawed but still very real and you find yourself caring about what's happening to them, asking yourself why they are making decisions that are obviously bad, and annoyed when you don't get the ending you've been waiting for since page one. Even better, Tana French immerses us into modern Ireland; a country that continues to ride the Celtic Tiger economy while dealing with all that implies. There are two issues I have with the novel. First, the author basically gives us two plots and gives equal time to both; however, only one of those plots ever reaches any sort of conclusion and the one we most want to see solved is left open ended. Second, while the other plot is resolved it's resolved in way that was very annoying and a major letdown. Maybe the author thought she was being different but ending the novel this way, but it didn't work. No, I don't think every novel has to conclude with everything nicely tidied up, but when I turned the last page I was just left with a feeling of disappointment. Still, it's great novel, especially for an author's first published work.
218 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic literary mystery thriller--don't expect genre!,
After reading numerous reviews, I am compelled to counter a lot of the remarks by frustrated reader reviewers expecting more of a resolve than is served up in the story.
This is the kind of mystery that feels organic. Language, imagery, poetry, sensuality, metaphor, emotional density, visceral fear--that is how the story is revealed. This isn't exposition and a lot of declarative sentences. It is not formula. It performs a vivisection on genre. As much as it is a mystery of the present murder of a young girl and an unsolved past mystery of the main protagonist's boyhood (he is now a detective who as a young boy survived a violent attack on himself and two friends, who were never found), it is much, much more. It is about the enigmatic quality of relationships, the complicated enmeshments glued by dysfunction, the underbelly of fear that keeps people from leading full lives, and the question of survival in a life of elliptical events.
Detectives Cassie and Adam were characters that haunted me around the clock, even when I was not reading the book. The characterizations were meticulous. The inner dialogue was fresh with deep, psychological insights, and the minor characters were not drawn for convenience or contrivance, either. Not one character seemed cardboard. The book was unputdownable; the story was a generous mix of harrowing and romantic and wry and witty and dramatic and tragic. These qualities make it stand apart from your prosaic thrillers that flood the marketplace.
This is not Stephen King. It is way too literary, layered, full of allusion, and linguistically lush. The author makes it both accessible to the reader while also challenging the senses. She has a grasp of comic timing and dramatic irony. She loves her characters. It is evident in every beautiful sentence that Tana French writes. She did not use a cookie cutter to write this. This came from the marrow of her bones, the center of her heart. The unfolding of the story never feels forced or artificial.
If you are looking for a dues ex machina, or if you are inflexible about having all your ducks in a row, then this is not a novel for you. I was initially frustrated at the close of the novel because all the answers were not forthcoming. But as I chewed on it for a night and a day, I realized that my reaction is also a part of the story. I do not want to reveal too much, but the reviewers who criticized the author for essentially cheating them out of a certain kind of ending remind me of the characters in the story also working out their personal demons through this mystery. I do believe that the author slyly and discreetly puts the reader right there in that Irish berg. It forces the reader to reflect on personal issues concerning resolution.I am one of the characters by the time it is over--I am part of the town.
It is plausible, also, that Tana French could bring back Cassie, Adam, Sam, and several other characters in a future book. I would welcome their return!
417 of 487 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and disappointing,
I'm usually pretty bad at figuring out whodunnits, but honestly I solved the Katy Devlin murder at around the halfway point -- it was just too obvious. That was a major failure of the book made worse when Ryan addresses the reader at the end and suggests that we have been just as befuddled as he was. French perplexingly seems to suggest that she's pulled a "Murder of Roger Ackroyd" on us with a narrator who tells us in the very first pages that he lies. But in fact he hasn't lied, not even by omission; he's just been phenomenally stupid.
The second major failure of the book was in the way French crafts characters and relationships. The cutesy-poo banter between Cassie and Rob might be fun for a 16-year-old to read, but I found it boring, annoying, excessive and hugely unrealistic. Every single time they interact, there has to be an exchange that I guess the reader is supposed to find clever and sexy, but in fact, the playfulness of their relationship struck me as a kind of clicheed teenage romantic fantasy: the guy and girl are best friends (though not lovers -- yet) and everyone believes they're in love but they are the last to realize it themselves; then when they finally do sleep together, it changes everything...oh please, Ms. French; save that for your YA book.
Moreover, French seems to like the character of Cassie so much that she makes her just about perfect. Cassie is always right, and she does almost all of the detective work on the case. Rob does end up making a key breakthrough, but does so in a way that seems like a fluke on his part, plus that's his sole contribution; everything else is done by Cassie, who is also apparently the only person on the force who knows the definition of a psychopath and understands profiling. The result of this is that, ironically, after a while I started to wonder why we even needed Rob in the story at all. I also think this is part of the reason why many readers found Rob unlikable -- Cassie is so flawless that we can't help but see Rob as excessively flawed, which I'm sure is not quite what French intended.
And of course, there's the ending. I am not against ambiguity; in fact, many contemporary mystery novels leave at least some part of their plots unresolved as a way of adding realism; no matter how much we may want to seek the truth, a detective knows better than anyone how impossible it is to find it absolutely. And yet, as others have said, the ambiguity here serves absolutely no purpose (except, as has been suggested, to pave the way for a series). If the idea is supposed to be that "some things simply can't be uncovered," we hardly needed 400+ pages to understand that. Moreover, in these 400+ pages we learn almost nothing new about the 1984 case other than a few vague hints of what seems like supernatural forces -- and, importantly, Rob doesn't seem to have learned anything or changed at all after going back to the woods. Why even bother writing about it then?
On the plus side, yes, she can write beautifully at times, as many have said. But frankly I'm getting a little tired of all these super-mega-best-sellers covered with glowing accolades that make it seem like you have to read it or you'll be missing out on the event of a lifetime. I see it more like this: if you read this book, you'll probably find some of it quite enthralling but a lot of it disappointing; if you don't read it, don't worry about it too much.
148 of 179 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars SPOILER ALERT-Don't read if you plan to read this book,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Wow I was really into this book. I LOVED it. I read it non-stop all day and could not put it down. By 11 PM Sunday I was worried that I wouldn't get enough sleep before work, but I just HAD to find out what had happened to Ryan and his friends when they were 12. Then as the ending got closer and closer I started having a bad feeling. I shook it off, sure that all would be right at the end. By the time I had about 10 pages left I realized this book was not going to explain one damn thing about the central and most important mystery. I was spitting mad by the end, I had stayed up late to finish it for nothing. Did the author even know what the resolution of the mystery was herself? I got the impression that she didn't. It has hints here and there about what happened, but if you were supposed to figure it out from vague clues, the book was a dismal failure. I cannot believe that Nancy Pearl from NPR recommended it. The bomb of an ending completely erased everything I enjoyed about this book. If you like being frustrated and angry, then this might be the book for you. Otherwise there are a zillion good mystery books out there. I heard she is writing a sequel but I think she could have left happy readers with a resolution to this one, and still had them clamoring for more. Instead we are left with a broken trust.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MAJOR SPOILER HERE DONT READ PRIOR TO READING BOOK,
I loved the writing, too, and I also was disappointed in the ending. There were clues and hints about the older mystery, but somehow it all failed to come together. Even no solution can be satisfying, and this wasn't. And, no, I am not really interested in continuing to read the adventures of the intrepid Cassie The Detective. And we are being set up for that. My copy of this book came with the first chapter of the next book in what will undoubtedly be a series.
But there were enough hints along the way that I could imagine that Rob was involved in the deaths of his two childhood friends. Here's what I tend to put together:
Rob/Adam felt heavy that summer, not as light and comfortable in his body as his two friends. He was always running after them, "wait for me!" The two of them, followed by the one of him. There was a separation, just due to where they were in their physical growth.
In Rob/Adam's memories, Rob/Adam is often the one with the bad ideas--making a fire and bringing potatoes and sausages to cook when running away, for example. Peter, always the leader, corrects him--no fire, light easy foods.
Several times, there was the implication that Jamie would have to choose between Peter and Rob/Adam, as they grew into adults and their relationships changed. Sandra said it--"which one's your fella?" Rob/Adam's mom said it, too, and I think it came up at least once more.
The day of the disappearance Rob/Adam kissed Jamie, and then Peter jumped into the scene and they were all running away, but Rob/Adam could not keep up.
For me, this is enough to establish an undercurrent of things not being totally balanced and equal between the three friends. There is the parallel of the three older boys, the "bikers," with their one outsider friend (the one who ended up in jail). Threes rarely balance well.
Rob is attracted to girls who look like Jamie, and he is also attracted to his partner, who acts like Jamie. But he absolutely cannot maintain a decent relationship with a woman for any length of time. Something about sexuality causes him to dehumanize women--even his partner and best friend. And also the woman in the bar, and his roommate Heather, who knows instantly that he has slept with Cassie because he is no longer taking her calls. Heather says, "She didn't deserve it. And neither did I."
When Sandra was raped in the woods, Rob/Adam was the one who could not look away, who had to be dragged away by his two friends.
When the suspect, Damian, first says he cannot remember anything, Rob comments that this is what suspects always do, at first. Rob has maintained that he cannot remember anything and his friends' disappearances, either. But he also says twice that he lies and at least once he says that he is a very good liar. Maybe he is a bit like Rosalind in some ways. Maybe his parents sheltered him the way Rosalind's parents will shelter her. Certainly, they got him away from the detectives who viewed him as a suspect.
So, since I am not going to be reading the subsequent books on the amazing Cassie The Detective, I have decided, for myself, that probably Rob/Adam did something to hurt his friends, or perhaps just failed to help them when they needed help. That whatever happened, it horrified him and changed him and cannot be undone. And that is the end of it, for me. You are free to disagree, of course!
77 of 92 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed,
I could not put this book down. I think Ms. French's' writing style, the story and setting were terrific. There was such a great chance to link these two mysteries together in the end. I woke early on a Saturday morning to finish it and promptly threw it across the room! I was so let down by the ending. What happened Tanya? I do not think I would put myself through another novel by her to be let down once again.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Brilliant,
I loved this book so much --up until the very end-- that it breaks my heart to give it only two stars... Yet I'm sorely tempted to give it only one.
The plot was fascinating, the characters were vivid and complex, the prose was elegant yet engaging, the dialogue was convincing and lively... I was thrilled with this book, and felt I had found an exciting new author to follow, and a new art in a genre that usually leaves me cold. But no, I'll probably never read another book by Tana French.
There are all sort of implicit agreements between an author and his or her readers, and chief among them is the unspoken promise that the author will not leave you hanging, flapping in the wind with no resolution or explanation by the end of the story. With that trust we go forward. With that trust we invest the hours and attention, staying up way too late to devour just a few more pages, and then a few more; stealing off to read for a few minutes, one ear cocked for bosses or parents or kids or spouses, when we should really be spending our time more productively; and, finally, picking up our book with a rush of gratitude and a sigh of happy contentment in those precious moments of perfectly free time.
Jana French broke this trust with "In the Woods" and though it's actually one of the best new books I've read in a while otherwise, I won't run the risk of being fooled again. If her non-resolution of one of the two mysteries that form the spine of the tale is an attempt at a sort of artful meta-commentary on the nature of trust and disappointment as demonstrated in the rest of the story, I have to say that for me it fell totally, utterly flat. If, on the other hand, it was meant to be a way to kick off a series, with readers always hopeful that the core mystery will be resolved by the end of four or five or six or 26 books, I'm even more thoroughly disgusted. I won't be blackmailed into buying more of the same, desperately hoping that the tale that was promised in the first book will finally be told.
It's a shame, too, because if it weren't for that stunt, I'd be lining up for the next one... I would have loved to continue on with these characters and this author; I didn't need to have my hand held over the flame.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing, implausible, and unsatisfying .... in spite of some very nice writing,
Tana French is one of those writers who is very good at the craft of writing, but very bad at constructing a convincing novel. A good novel requires that the characters be believable, the logic consistent, and the events plausible. Unfortunately, In the Woods was weak in all of these areas.
The story is told in first person from the perspective of Rob Ryan, who is supposed to be a 30-something detective with amnesia. (He was the survivor of an assumed child abduction case in which two of his friends were never found.) There were three major flaws in this character, 1) he does not act like a detective (it is very unprofessional to interview the sibling of a murder victim and then not tell your partner the details because you "don't feel like it"), 2) he does not act like an adult (silly practical jokes are more typical of an adolescent), and 3) his "voice" is distinctly female. Rob's endless reflections on his low self esteem, his concern for fashion, his self-loathing at having been fat as a young teen, and his self-dramatization are hallmarks of an insecure adolescent female, not an insecure adult male. As a result, I found it nearly impossible to identify with Rob, which is a serious drawback in a novel told in first person.
Problems with the internal logic were rife. Rob supposedly ditches his childhood identity by simply using his middle name and switching his accent to "BBC English" a week after enrolling in private school. A legal name is a legal name. It appears on all legal documents--birth certificate, passport, bank accounts, tax returns, job applications. If Rob received a paycheck, then it is simply not plausible that nobody at work knew his real identity. As far as the accent goes, it is actually more difficult to change a childhood accent than it is to learn a new language. Even if Rob had managed it, the process would have taken many years.
The pace of the novel was unbelievably slow. Well over a third of it is wasted on trivial and inconsequential details, red herrings (the "puka" demon is picked up and then dropped without explanation), and excruciatingly juvenile conversations. Each chapter included at least one instance of rather heavy-handed foreshadowing, which, while fine at the start of a novel, gets old after 300 pages. There can be just so many "If-I-had-only-known-then-what-I-know-nows" before you simply have to get on with the plot (something French clearly struggled with).
But the biggest let-down of all was the ending. I'd figured out who the murderer was in the first part of the book (it was fairly obvious), so what I was really interested in was the solution to the disappearance of the two children some two decades earlier. This was the whole crux of the book. Would Rob regain his memory? Would the trauma be resolved? Would that old mystery be solved? French never got around to answering these questions. As a consequence, the book ended not with a bang but a whimper.
I don't hold out a lot of hope for French. The sequel to this book, The Likeness, was even more riddled with flaws than In the Woods. It is a pity that with such literary talent French can't manage to bring her ideas to fruition.
104 of 130 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A book in three acts--CAUTION: SPOILERS.,
"In the Woods" can be summarized as a book with three acts.
Act I superbly sets up an interesting and even compelling mystery. One of the best openings I have ever read. The heart-rending murder of a child seems to promise a deep and appropriate cause commensurate with the magnitude of the crime.
But then Ms. French runs out of gas. Act II is a tedious bore going nowhere and featuring the wimpish hero's drunkeness and smoking as time fillers.
And Act III is an anti-climatic disappointment of the first order. After beginning a seeming epic of evil, the perp turns out out to be motivated by the most banal of motives. The murder of a little girl is trivialized and the excellent build-up ruined.
And dont even get me started on the author's cheating the reader by leaving the other major mystery unresolved. Indeed, the author spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about the personal life of her detective. One would expect this to have something to do with the two mysteries she constructs. It does not.
In sum, a mystery that promises much and delivers little.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book Worth Discussing,
This book deals with the investigation of the murder of a child by a trio of detectives. The detective through whose eyes we see the story is heavily damaged by a similar episode in his own past, and the book is an in-depth study of his own issues as much as it is a murder mystery.
And, bless it, it does have one ambiguous storyline that lends itself to discussion and argument. I found it very satisfying. It's not a quick, shallow, connect-the-dots cozy. The writing is lyrical, the characters are complex. It lends itself to a second reading with pencil in hand to note themes and recurrent images - a great pleasure for those of us who will always be life's lit majors. Anyone who has read Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" will hear some echoes.
If you must have all your little plot lines tied up with big bows on them in the last 4 pages of the book, this is obviously not a good choice for you, as some of the other reviews suggest.
Could I find fault with it? Not much. [This from a reader whose criticisms, large and small, about every single book our mystery group read were the despair of the rest of the members]. A little too much foreshadowing (problem solved if about 2 sentences were cut), and some readers will not be entirely confined by the main character's viewpoint and may reach conclusions about the murder before he does. And I'm not even sure that the latter is a fault, as it adds to our opinions on his own character.
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In the Woods by Tana French (Audio CD - May 17, 2007)
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