In the Woods
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351 of 387 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 12, 2007
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.
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269 of 307 people found the following review helpful
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!
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467 of 545 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2008
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.
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191 of 228 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2008
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.
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81 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2007
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.
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2008
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!
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114 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2007
"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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
I just finished reading "In the Woods," which was no small feat and took up much of my free time. Soon after finishing the last sentence, the book was swiftly tossed across the floor in an act of utter disappointment and I immediately started searching the web for reader's reviews. Most of what I found were raving accolades for Tana French's accomplishments and plenty of "atta girls" for publishing an amazing first work. I scratched my head and thought..."Did my copy of this book experience some fluke mis-print that left out the 'real' final chapter?" Nay, nay. Then, I found this site and was relieved that I was not the only person who was cheated out of an acceptable ending. As many other reader's mentioned, I enjoyed the book so much and was so excited to get the answers to the 1984 mystery that I overlooked several things about the plot.

#1--The irritating relationship between Cassie and Rob where WAY too much time was spent beating the readers to death with the details of their teenage eye-batting and cutesy one-line zingers. I guess it was meant to be endearing but it was just ridiculous.

#2--The irritating relationship between Adam, Peter & Jamie whose bond was strange and unrealistic. None of that made sense.

#3--The obvious fact that Rosalind was a total wack-job who seemed to be the most apparent suspect in the death of Katy (so much so that I immediately ruled her out)

#4--The fact that when Katy's murder is solved, it's done with little climax compared to how much time was spent through most of the book investigating all possible scenarios--it wasn't much of a surprise where you think, "Wow, that is crazy!!"

#5--The awkward placement of Sam, the sweet-natured bumble-head, who didn't really fit into the "mix" of Cassie & Rob's irritating relationship, which only made it more irritating to add him into their friendship-fold.

#6--The ridiculousness of Cassie and Sam getting engaged. Where did that come from and who the hell cares?

#7--The detectives suspecting that Katy's illness was due to someone poisoning her and then miraculously, Katy describing it in her diary almost exactly the same way as the Detectives had pondered it previously. And how did she hide her diary behind some poster at the dance studio without people seeing her do this for months on end every day??

#8--The lack of explanation for Jessica's "issues."

#9--The randomness of Rob's treatment of Cassie after they spend the night together romantically. The way the author built up the strength of their relationship as friends and partners, it doesn't seem (again) realistic that Rob would take such a 180 degree turn towards his treatment of her, even if he had prior issues with women.

#10--The continual, tiring statements made by Rob that he has no memory of the past. God help us,that went on forever.

And of course, what made all of this maddening was that I held out to the bitter end, waiting to find out how this brilliant new author was going to weave everything together at the end. I was so committed to this book that I actually believed that in the last few pages, when the construction worker gave Rob the artifact, that it would somehow provide the link that would spark Rob's memory (finally!) and he'd tie the whole mystery of the past and present together. Um no. Wishful thinking.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm no literary expert who can disect plot lines and character development, etc. I'm just a girl who likes to read and feel satisfied when I close the book for good. I don't know what the author was trying to accomplish by leaving everyone hanging, but if it was supposed to be "clever," much as the Sopranos ending was speculated to be, she better come up with another book that explains what happened. At least I immediately suspected that's what the Sopranos' writers were looking to do--lead into a movie that we'd all go run out and see to find out the true ending.

I always donate my used books to the local library but this time...I just can't burden others in my community with this major disappointment.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2009
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.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2008
(spoiler) Was this book written by two different authors? Like most of the other readers I thought this book was great when I first started it-I found the mystery of the boy in the bloody shoes intriguing and at first the book was so suspense filled I couldn't put it down. I had a few minor quibbles with the story, for instance I thought detective Ryan's views on things, especially women, were more like a female than any male I have ever met. (This didn't bother me too much, however, as I agreed with his views and decided I may just not give men enough credit) Some of the story was also unbelievable but hey, this is a mystery, so I gave it some leeway. Then around the late middle of the book I started getting bored. I was tired of details about bits that were irrelevant to the story and began to wonder why the author was going on in such depth about these minute details. I had also figured out who the killer was and began to grow impatient for Ryan to figure it out so that I could find out the connection to the first murders (if any) and find out who had committed them. However, this is when things really started to go downhill. Ryan, who up until now has been insightful(perhaps too insightful for belief) about women (especially Cassie) turns into an idiot who suddenly displays both no understanding of his partner and believes all the worst sexist stereotypes about women. I was also left confused as to why Rosalind had him fooled. Maybe I could have bought the possibility of her manipulation, but to believe it I needed a lot more than the few encounters that French invested in. Instead of putting in the time and detail to really fool both the reader about Rosalind and show how Ryan could have been fooled she takes for granted that a couple of encounters (all in which Rosalind acts fishy) have convinced everyone. Much of the attention to needless detail could have been used there, and the implication that the reader was fooled is insulting and a little embarrassing. The final insult, though, is of course that the main mystery which is central to both the main character and the plot line of the book and which so many (muddled) hints are dropped about and solutions dangled like a carrot is left unsolved except for the hint that some magical Pan creature whisked the kids away (which does not at all jive with the tone of the rest of the book and offers no explanation at all for the blood in the shoes). Donna Tarrt's book works because it is predominantly a work of fiction containing a mystery. The writing in French's book is good for a murder mystery but it is not good enough, nor is the plot strong enough, to make it anything other than a murder mystery and murder mysteries need to either have a solution that is solved for the reader or one that is at least solvable. French gives a lot of conflicting meaningless clues but in the end none of them add up to anything and the plot disappears, like the children, in the woods.
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