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3.4 out of 5 stars
In the Woods
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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57 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In the Woods is smartly written and rich in uncommon vocabulary and vivid descriptions. So much so that some readers may be able to forgive the ridiculous plot. During the first few hundred pages, it would be tough to complain about the story, clues and character development in a book of this genre. But once the perpetrator and the motive are revealed, the reader will be too busy scratching his or her head to pay much attention to the rest, which is just as well since some major plot details are never resolved and others just plain don't make sense. A happy ending in a murder mystery is neither required nor expected; however, a cohesive resolution is. Killer writing, lifeless plot. Better but different: The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks and An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I, like many others, read this book as it was critically acclaimed (not sure why) and touted as one of the best thriller reads of the year. I was pretty disappointed on all fronts. Ms. French's prose is beautiful and elegant but the story was a letdown if there ever was one. It had its moments, but mostly it just languishes into nothingness. The characters are pretty well developed but I felt completely disjointed from them. Ryan is portrayed as this kind of neurotic woman in a man's body at times that made him completely unbelievable to me, despite her best efforts to portray him as this manly police man. He still came across too flaky for me to swallow. I was not drawn into the tour de force that is supposed to be the partnership with he and Cassie, like I thought I would. Towards the middle it gets really really slow and boring and I almost stopped reading. Man, I wish I had! I felt slighted with the ending, both with how the relationship between the two main characters ended and the story as a whole. I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time reading about the neurosis of Ryan and didn't really get anything from the story. Yes - it was fairly easy from the start to tell who was going to be the catalyst in the murder mystery and I, like many others, was left wanting to know more about the '84 murder and didn't give a crap really about the current one. Yes, books don't always have happy-tied-up-with-a-bow endings but if I wanted an open-ended story with characters that I couldn't relate to or simply didn't care about I'd watch the evening news instead of wasting my time reading a novel.

All that said, I'd read her next book because I do think she is a talented writer, but the story needs to be much much better next time.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I did admire the writing and clear plotting of this procedural, and the characters are very well drawn. So much so that I found myself completely drawn to the secondary character, Cassie, and somewhat repelled by the narrator, Adam "Rob" Ryan. Frankly, by about half way through the book I was yearning for a book about Cassie, not Rob, and that made it a bit of a slog for me. I absolutely wanted to like the book more than I actually did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The bulk of this story was really engaging, and I thought the characters were engaging and believable. It's linguistically quite beautiful. The setting is lush and realistic. But the chief complaints I have about the book are significant enough that they pretty much ruined the experience for me.

First, the foreshadowing throughout the book is ridiculously heavy-handed. You can practically hear the "Dun-Dun-Dunnnnnn!" music in the background. And it's not just once or twice: there are many times throughout the book when we get these very obvious, very ominous clues. I'm sure this was intentional, but I think it was a very poor choice. My suspicion is that it's done to keep the reader sufficiently engaged through the extremely frustrating and disappointing conclusion, which feels to me like a very amateur technique and all-around poor craft.

This brings me to my next complaint: like so many other readers, I was supremely dissatisfied with the ending. I too am not the type of reader who demands that all lingering questions are laid to rest in a story; in fact, I often find stories which explain things overmuch to be annoying. But the fact we learn literally nothing new about the primary mystery, and that it is in no way connected to the other primary threads of the plot, makes it seem totally irrelevant to the rest of the book. And throughout the book are scattered hints of some supernatural or paranormal influence, which too are never fully addressed, never even remotely resolved, and are totally unconnected from the rest of the story. They feel like a cheap parlor tricks that are meant to grab your attention but never really deliver, and again I think this is very poor writing.

And finally, I could totally buy into the struggles of the protagonist for the majority of the book. But by the end, his actions go so far beyond the understandable unreasonableness of a person struggling with intense personal demons, and into such collossal stupidity, that I lost any connection to him. He learns nothing. He gains nothing. And he behaves in a stupendously weak and cowardly way for the last few chapters, which seemed out of character even considering his diminished mental state. In fact, at the end, all the characters simply do nothing to resolve any of their interpersonal conflicts. It's as if free will evaporated from the plot, and they became victims of circumstance and difficulty and couldn't be bothered to expend any effort into being real human beings. Either French just got lazy, or she totally sacrificed realism in her characters' interactions for the sake of preserving the sense of eerie disillusionment she seems to be going for throughout the book.

Basically, despite the rich writing style and fantastic premise, this book fails to deliver on any of its promises. What's most annoying to me is that it feels like these shortcomings were deliberate, meant to step outside the genre and coyly shake its finger at the silly, immature reader who was expecting answers to the questions it raised. But its execution is unsophisticated, clumsy, and edging on pretentious. We read books hoping to gain something from them, whether some deep philosophical value or simply entertainment. The lack of resolution has the effect that none of the plot really means anything in a deeper sense, and for me, my frustration with the intentional failures of the story completely nullified any entertainment value I got from it. It leaves the book feeling like reading it a waste of time.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
SPOILER!

I read this novel over a weekend, absolutely enthralled, then like so many other reviewers here was gutted by the lack of resolution at the end. I feel cheated actually--I was enjoying it so much, recommended it enthusiatically to my book club last night (still had a dozen pages to go) and now I may have to retract my recommendation. I don't understand it--such a careful plotting of the story, so many details and shifts and tantalizing hints and then at the end the whole thing comes to naught essentially. Did the author run out of steam? Did no editor say "you know---you might want to actually sew this up a bit more?" The characters and the relationship/friendship theme of the novel, and the parallels between the old crime and the new are so well done--I just don't get why one trail ends in nothing. After the terror, the blood-filled sneakers, the mysterious "place" where perhaps the children were taken--all of the detail we're given -- I want to know what happened! Isn't that why we read crime fiction rather than following actual crime stories--for a bit more leeway, for tidier and perhaps happier endings?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
My wife read this book after hearing a rave review of it on NPR - Great new writer, excellent mystery, vivid characters, etc. She complained about it every 50 pages until she was done, even though, as they say, she couldn't put it down. Not such a great feature this time. She threw it on the donation pile before I got a chance at it so I had to take it out of the library. I was equally frustrated. It is a mixed bag, a diamond in the rough except that the rough part is not just unsightly and distracting from the diamond, but irritating like a rash. So, yes, great new writer, check, new arrangement of old material for a set up -murder beat, but in Dublin; Prime Suspect serious but with almost buoyant buddy film vibe. Great characters and atmosphere, with some lines that are so good they make you want to annoy your spouse by reading them aloud. Good story, with lots of time frames and loose ends hanging around, possible twists and open ends.
A few times, early on, she tries to slip something past you, and it doesn't blend in, and you think "That so and so will be a clue, how could he not have spotted that?" And a few times the characters do things that are implausible, not asking a question, or closing a loop hole that we can see. This is stagecraft, and these are the rookie mistakes, which don't distract too much, and we are happy to ignore them anyway. If you read these kinds of books, mysteries and thrillers, you get an ear for this stuff.
And there are the writing school moments, the bits of prose so lurid and overcharged they stand out like a desperate actor singing and buffaloing his way across the stage in desperation even though he is not right for the part. The prologue is an excellent example. It didn't do much for me beyond scream "look at me! I can write!" Great. So pipe down and let's have it.
So what goes wrong? If I had to guess, I would say that Ms. French probably changed her mind ten times while writing this book about how it should end, and then couldn't quite decide. In the process of trying to figure this out, and writing her first novel, and then of trying to repair and patch and add in with the added complication of an editor, as well as dropping too much personal baggage on her characters, she got turned around and couldn't see the whole thing anymore. Or her editor sucked, maybe was an assistant who had never done it before, but whatever the case, mistakes were made. Or maybe I'm projecting too much. But once you have sucked a reader in, having the tone of the book go all minor key with no resolution is irritating enough without leaving one of the underpinnings of the plot to twist in the wind without hardly a mention. And I don't mean to make this minor key thing sound all atmosphere-y and intentional part-of-the-story inevitable. No, this is more like your pilot decided to crash land the plane in the field next to the airport, so you don't jar just the once but over and over. I felt like I had had my face rubbed in the misery of a character I liked, and there wasn't even any good reason. Hard boiled is one thing, but Raymond Chandler didn't start his books out as buddy novels with tipsy pasta dinners and late night sharing time.
Did I mention that there was a whole giant section of the plot that was left unresolved? One of the few actually unbelievable passages in the book refers to this, when a character claims to have no recollection of the past before a certain point - except this one incredibly detailed montage of images. I didn't buy it. And I suppose we were supposed to be satisfied with if he forgot it, why shouldn't we? If you are going to do the unsatisfying ambiguity of life/realistic unresolved nature of criminal detection thing, at least look it in the eye and say so, don't hint around for 400 pages that you will lead the reader somewhere and then just have the narrator stop being able to remember anything about it.
Or maybe I missed something? All those backhanded allusions to the chthonic, bestial soul of The Woods you say? It ties in with your themes of the buried past, the archeology/sacrificial site vs. brutality in the present day? No. I didn't miss it. It's just that they had the artfulness of the magician moving his hands to distract you, and I wasn't satisfied with them. Eventually, the mystery writer has to be a conjurer, and even if those elaborate hand gestures don't lead suddenly to a dove, or a bunny (I do like a romance to work out, but I have also known my share that did not) - even if they lead to a feeling like my wallet has been stolen, I still want the payoff. It didn't even feel post-modern-y, but more like watching a juggler drop a ball.
Anyway, it got under my skin, as you may have been able to tell.
My wife assures me that the next two books do not have any taint of these problems, and she has enjoyed then very much. I will read them also, because there was a lot of good writing and plotting and character in this one. I'm not surprised it won a first mystery award. And after all, we can't all write The Secret History and apparently if we did, we'd never write another decent book anyway. Probably better this way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Tana French sets up not one, but two mysteries. She starts out getting the reader very interested in Detective Ryan's back story and the mystery of what happened to him and his two friends in the woods. Through Ryan she then transitions into the second mystery, who killed and violated the promising young Katy? Unfortunately for the reader only the second mystery ever gets solved, and I don't really feel too bad for saying that here without a spoiler warning.

What looked like it was going to be an interesting supernatural horror/police procedural turned out to just be a police procedural with amnesia. Which admittedly was a bit of a let down. French's writing is mostly enjoyable and I would be interested in reading future works, but then I'll know what I'm getting myself into, a procedural. There was some lag in the middle, and the book seemed to carry on a bit past the climax, but it would make a pleasant beach read for someone not too worried about getting all of the answers. Maybe it is more gripping and mysterious that we never find out what happened to the three children, or why only one was spared, but I find that really, I just want those answers no matter how far flung they may be.

While the characters themselves were compelling, their relationships seemed a little to "right". Of course right when Detective Ryan is flubbing everything up there is Mr. Young Detective Perfect (not his actual name) to come in and save Cassie. Cassie who is the strong female lead, is almost always depicted with the assistance of another man. I'm nitpicking now. Overall I'd give it a C+. There were things I really liked, and then there was the part where I was "I read all of this and I still don't know part of the story."
[...]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I felt this book was an extremely long read that was a bit drawn out. I felt let down by the ending and at times found myself confused as to what was going on. I kept reading it waiting for something to happen with the story line and felt as if it never did. I was hoping to enjoy the book more than I did.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I just finished this yesterday. And since then I've read a lot of reviews on this before I'm posting my own. I'm only going to say this: I feel that the author left us all hanging on what was the ENTIRE premise of the book because of the pure fact that she knew we would all post reviews about it! I'm willing to bet she reads these reviews and laughs. She's looking for a reaction and she got just that! I liked the book until I didn't....the end.
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