This isn’t a book about The Enchanted Forest, sorry (happy season 5, Oncers!).
Adam Robert Ryan doesn’t remember his life before his teens, and he’s quite content to ensure that it stays this way. He doesn’t want to remember how and why his two best childhood friends were abducted and he himself ended up covered in blood in the woods near the village of Knockaree, Ireland. Fate isn’t on his side, however – a gruesome murder of a young girl brings Adam who now goes by Rob, his lovely enigmatic partner Cassie Maddox and other members of the Dublin Murder Squad to Knockaree over twenty years after the kidnapping. The girl’s body is found on an archaeological site and the murder causes shocks to ripple through the small community and the victim’s family. Rob and Cassie don’t yet realise how in over their heads they are with this case and how it’s going to change the course of their lives forever.
Who killed little Katy Devlin? Was it her murder that tore her family apart or were they rotten from the very beginning? And how is the case connected to Adam’s past? Will he ever able to keep it buried forever or will he be consumed and destroyed by the heartbreaking revelations about the case and his own life?
Ireland is a beautiful place with rich culture and stunning nature. Tana French knows that and each sentence of “In the Woods” is saturated with the riches this country can offer. The prose is absolutely beautiful, the writing truly has the power to take you to Ireland of the late 00’s. I’ve read a lot of mystery novels, some good and some even amazing, but they’re usually fast-paced page-turners with the emphasis on the gritty and the gruesome. “In the Woods” has plenty of that, but it works amazingly well with the rich, detailed descriptions of the Irish nature, human nature and last, but definitely not least, the characters.
Writing is a very strong point of this book, but the characters are what truly makes “In the Woods” a phenomenal work. Our narrator, Rob, is not what you’d call “reliable”, and he has no problem admitting that, but Tana French gave us a character who spent most of his life repressing the memories of the tragedy plaguing his childhood and suddenly, out of the blue, he has to face it, to wonder whether he had almost shared the fate of the murdered girl. Adam and Rob Ryan must face each other, and the inner battle of the character was a very significant point in the book, handled very well.
However, for me personally, Cassie Maddox – Rob’s Murder Squad partner – was the real star of “In the Woods”. She reminded me strongly of Kate Beckett, who is one of my favourite characters on TV of all time, but she also was her own person. While she wasn’t our narrator, the reader learns a lot about her through Rob’s eyes and each revelation poses more and more questions about Cassie and the case. She’s certainly someone I could picture being friends with – the author’s and Rob’s portrayal of her felt like she was coming off the page, a real person. Both Cassie and Rob are damaged, flawed -somewhat tragically – complex and self-destructive. Reading about their obsession with the case and what it had put them through was heartbreaking – Tana French found many ways to make the reader feel their emotions and pain, and I have teared up on several occasions.
The extensive character study, coupled with the lyrical, detailed writing might make you believe that “In the Woods” is tedious, boring and way too long. However, this isn’t the case. While its longer than your average murder mystery, but at no point, does the reader get bored. The case is complex, well-written, and it’s very, very hard to figure out the villain, especially given the potentially retrospective nature of the case.
Overall, “In the Woods” not only ticks all the boxes for a great murder mystery, but it’s generally an amazing book that I believe anybody, even not a big fan of detective stories would like. I’m already more than halfway through book 2 – “The Likeness”, in which Cassie is our narrator (yay!), and it’s fantastic. My rating for “In the Woods” is 8/10.
“Now death is uncool, old-fashioned. To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.”
“Humans are feral and ruthless; this, this watching through cool intent eyes and delicately adjusting one factor or another till a man’s fundamental instinct for self-preservation cracks, is savagery in its most pure, most polished and most highly evolved form.”
“We developed an intense, unhealthy relationship with caffeine and forgot what it was like not to be exhausted.”
You might like “In the Woods” if you liked:
“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
“Nikki Heat series” by Richard Castle
“Nora Gavin series” by Erin Hart