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In the Woods: A Novel Paperback – May 27, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her debut. When Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl from Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb, is found murdered at a local archeological dig, Det. Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, must probe deep into the victim's troubled family history. There are chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and the disappearance 20 years before of two children from the same neighborhood who were Ryan's best friends. Only Maddox knows Ryan was involved in the 1984 case. The plot climaxes with a taut interrogation by Maddox of a potential suspect, and the reader is floored by the eventual identity and motives of the killer. A distracting political subplot involves a pending motorway in Knocknaree, but Ryan and Maddox are empathetic and flawed heroes, whose partnership and friendship elevate the narrative beyond a gory tale of murdered children and repressed childhood trauma. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, land the first big murder case of their police careers: a 12-year-old girl has been murdered in the woods adjacent to a Dublin suburb. Twenty years before, two children disappeared in the same woods, and Ryan was found clinging to a tree trunk, his sneakers filled with blood, unable to tell police anything about what happened to his friends. Ryan, although scarred by his experience, employs all his skills in the search for the killer and in hopes that the investigation will also reveal what happened to his childhood friends. In the Woods is a superior novel about cops, murder, memory, relationships, and modern Ireland. The characters of Ryan and Maddox, as well as a handful of others, are vividly developed in this intelligent and beautifully written first novel, and author French relentlessly builds the psychological pressure on Ryan as the investigation lurches onward under the glare of the tabloid media. Equally striking is the picture of contemporary Ireland, booming economically and fixated on the shabbiest aspects of American popular culture. An outstanding debut and a series to watch for procedural fans. Thomas Gaughan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I recently read in The New York Times online a review of French's latest book, The Trespasser. It sounded fascinating and I wanted to read it right away, but then I digested the fact that this is the fifth book in a series and my reader OCD kicked in. Of course, I could not start a series at the end. I am constitutionally unable to do so. One has to start at the beginning. And that's how I came to pick up the first entry in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods.
This book won all kinds of literary awards when it was first published in 2007 and, from my perspective having now finished reading it, all the awards were well-deserved. It is a marvelously well-written book that tells a powerful story through the actions and relationships of interesting if imperfect characters.
The story is told in first person voice by Detective Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad. He introduces himself to us by saying that he is a seeker after truth and that he lies. It's a description that it is important to keep in mind throughout.
Ryan is hiding a dark secret. Twenty years before, when he was known as Adam Ryan, he was at the center of a mystery involving three children who disappeared one summer evening in woods in a Dublin suburb. Ryan was later found, his body pressed tightly against a tree with his nails dug into the bark. His shoes were full of blood and he was in a near catatonic state. He could not remember what had happened. The two other children were never found and the mystery never solved. Ryan still maintains that he cannot remember what happened and he keeps the secret of his past from his associates and superiors on the Murder Squad. All except his partner and best friend, Detective Cassie Maddox.
Now, a 12-year-old girl's murdered body has been found in those same woods and Ryan and Maddox are assigned to the case. The new murder once again raises questions about what happened in that long-ago case. Could there really be two child murderers in this small town or are the cases somehow related? How and why? These are some of the questions that Maddox and Ryan have to answer.
The girl's body was found in an area where an archaeological dig is taking place in advance of a new roadway being built through the site. Some locals are protesting against the building of the proposed roadway there and it turns out the murdered girl is the daughter of the leader of the protest against the roadway. The detectives must consider the possibility that the murder may be a warning to the protesters.
Weeks go by and the diligence of the Murder Squad has yielded no results. Everyone's nerves are frayed to the breaking point. French does a chilling job of conveying the strain, particularly the strain on the relationship between Ryan and Maddox that heretofore had been rock solid.
When the break finally comes, it is due to an insight by Ryan and yet it seems that he can't see the forest for the trees. (Ach! Please forgive the woods pun! I couldn't resist.) The truth turns out to be even more horrible than anyone - except Maddox who suspected all along - could have imagined.
French's plotting and exposition of this crime fiction/psychological thriller is just brilliant. Her writing shows the skilled hand of someone who one would swear was a much more experienced writer, and yet this is her first book. She set the bar very high for herself. I intend to investigate whether she has lived up to that standard in her succeeding books.
Readers must keep in mind that these novels are not classic detective story, murder who-dunnits, with the mystery solved and every question answered in the final chapter. If that's the formula that floats your literary boat, look elsewhere; Tana French's genre is psychological thriller, and the psychology of her protagonists are as likely to be as fraught and disturbing as those of her villains.
Detective Rob Ryan, formerly Adam Robert Ryan, was abducted and assaulted twenty years ago, along with his two best friends, in the woods bordering his home. He was found, his shoes and socks soaked in the blood of his never recovered friends, the back of his shirt slashed open. He completely repressed the memory of whatever happened to him on that fateful day. His family moved him away, changed his first name, and sent him to school in England. He never talked to anyone about what happened to him. Now he is sent to investigate the murder of thirteen year old girl that was committed in the same woods where he was traumatized twenty years before. No one knows his history outside his partner Cassie, who, as far as the reader is told, is Ryan's only friend and only "safe person" in his life.
This is character, a person, looking for a place to fall apart, to unravel, to come unhinged. He tells us, at different points in the investigation, that he can feel himself coming psychologically undone; he drinks too much, sleeps too little, spends all his time with Cassie. He tries, alone and without guidance, to regain those repressed memories, but the fear of the emotional pain that awaits him beats him back at every attempt. In a final, self destructive act, he sleeps with Cassie. It is self destructive in his eyes because he knows he can't have a real, loving relationship with Cassie or anyone; his capacity for that type of commitment and vulnerability was destroyed long ago in the woods. Yes, he treats her badly, cuts off their friendship without explanation, doesn't trust her assurances that their relationship can go on just as its always been. He suffers from something known as "survivor's guilt", a syndrome that most readers with a modicum of education and a passing familiarity with pop psychology are aware. Ryan does not feel deserving of surviving whatever killed his two best friends, though he probably isn't consciously aware of it. His guilt causes him to self sabotage - in his relationships, in his work, in his own self-esteem. He fails to convict the most culpable person in the current investigation because he failed to establish the suspect's date of birth! That is inexplicably shoddy attention to detail for a homicide detective.
Those who gave this novel one or two stars because they were disappointed by Ryan's character or because the mystery of what happened to him as a boy remains unsolved: you don't always have to like a character, and if you don't understand him, it may be because you don't bring enough with you as a reader. I think this novel worked as a police procedural, as a under mystery, and as a complex psychological thriller that perhaps rang too close to truth for some who fancy fare of a less complex nature. Five Stars!