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Customer Review

292 of 335 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic literary mystery thriller--don't expect genre!, January 10, 2008
This review is from: In the Woods (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 16, 2008 6:15:56 AM PDT
Kcolorado says:
I enjoy all your reviews. I just read both of Tana French's books and truly hated for each to end. While waiting for her next one I will read one of the other books you have reviewed- maybe Harlots Ghost.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2008 4:35:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2008 4:45:45 PM PDT
Hi, Kcolorado--

Thank you for your kind words! I have turned all my friends on to Tana French. We're like this Tana cult. Let me know if you like Harlot's Ghost. Some people complain of two much description, too much imagery, too many metaphors, and etc. I ate every bite. All 1200+ pages. A book, though, that I did not review (yet) but comes really close to my love for Tana's work is Child 44, by Thom Rob Smith. A real nail-biter that is also self-reflective and sharply focused, and you won't stop until you've gotten all the way through. That's a promise.

Oh, and even though it takes place in Russia during the Cold War, the vivid clarity of writing makes you feel that you are there, or it is here. the backyard of Alaska. Hahahahahaha


In reply to an earlier post on Apr 16, 2009 1:32:42 PM PDT
laluna says:
I read about 50 reviews of htis book because I was so fascinated by it. I agreed with what you had to say above all others. I absolutely loved the writing in this book. Your critique was dead on. I totally agree with "linguistically lush " . Well done. I loved the "teaser" ending. There were many blind alleys and dead ends. With your psych background ( I have one as well) don't you think that Ryan probably killed his friends and blocked it out. He is the psychopath and Cassie knows it which is why her initial attraction (she is drawn to the type) then because she has grown ultimately rejects him because she sees the signs . What do you think ?

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2009 3:58:10 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 6, 2009 3:58:29 AM PDT
I have considered that but don't want to. :) I love Ryan and have been wanting him to return. He was barely in The Likeness. The other way to look at it is not who dunnit (to just accept dark forces in the world) but how it affects the survivors. Victim or predator? What would be his motive? At such a young age? (It has been a while now since I've read it).

Have you read The Likeness, her second installment? Supposedly, Tana French working on the third installment. Maybe Ryan will have more presence in that one.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 25, 2010 10:33:33 PM PDT
Her third book Faithful Place is out now. I hate buying/reading hardcovers, but I couldn't help myself. I bought it today and am super excited to read it. Tana French is definitely one of my favorite new authors. She writes an easy read that is so deep and vivid. I'm constantly having to stop and think how genius her observations of human nature are.

It seems to be about Frank Mackey though, so I doubt Ryan will have much of a presence.

Posted on Dec 17, 2010 8:12:11 AM PST
MercyStreet says:
I'm so glad you put this review on Amazon. I was shocked to see so many negative reviews, and to see how uncomfortable many readers are with ambiguity (especially in an ending). Why do we expect our books to wrap up so cleanly and with full explanations, when life never plays out that way? I agree with your assessment -- I loved this book and couldn't put it down, specifically because of the full character development and the beauty of the language. This is why, when you look for it in the bookstore, it's in the Literary Fiction section, not the Mysteries and Thrillers section! I also loved The Likeness (Cassie is a great narrator) and am looking forward to reading Faithful Place when in paperback. I really hope Rob comes back ...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2010 1:28:24 PM PST
MercyStreet--thank you so much for your kind words and your kindred spirit! You said it SO well--that this is why this book is shelved with literary fiction and not in the genre section. You nailed it. This is still one of my all-time favorite books, as well as The Likeness (which I also reviewed). I didn't review Faithful Place but it was also a winner. I think her style was a bit different in that one--lots of vernacular.

I hope Rob comes back, too! Still waiting...


In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2010 1:30:41 PM PST
...Ah, and I see we are both Keeping Austin Weird! :--)

Posted on May 10, 2011 11:03:43 AM PDT
Jules says:
Thank you for your response to my confusion about possible other endings. I hope Tana French does bring these people back for another story. I could not put it down and am still thinking of these charactors as if I knew them-no cardboard-people who seem sooo real.
Count me as one of the 'French Fans' even with the ending it got to me!

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2011 11:09:03 AM PDT
J.--if you like this, read THE LIKENESS, also. Cassie comes back, and so does Sam. No Adam, really, but it is a terrific book, anyway. Her writing is amazing!

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