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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cancel Bedtime - In the Woods Won't Let You Rest

When I hear a thriller described as "raw," "gritty," or "hard-boiled," I generally give it a wide berth. It's not that I don't like mysteries or police procedurals, it's just that I like them ... soft-boiled. I can do without the excessive profanity, sex and gore that usually reigns in this genre.

All this considered, I probably shouldn't have enjoyd In the Woods by Tana French as much as I did. Still, I like me a good psychological thriller, and this is a good psychological thriller. It's got some issues (let's just say that the author's favorite word begins with an F and ends with a K), but overall, it's a wholly absorbing, unputdownable thrill ride that will have you salivating for answers. And losing sleep.

The story begins on a sunny day in 1984, when three kids vanish into the woods behind their houses. One, Adam Ryan, is found that night pressed against an oak tree, mute with terror. Although the police question the boy repeatedly, he can't remember what happened. Neither his friends, nor their bodies, make it out of the woods.

Fast forward 20 years. Adam has changed his name to Rob, joined the Dublin police bureau's Murder squad, and done his best to keep his past a secret. Only Cassie Maddox, his partner and best friend, knows his true identity. So, she, and only she, realizes the significance of the case that lands on their desks. A child's body has been discovered in the Knocknaree woods - the same forest from which 2 kids disappeared 20 years ago. The same forest from which only a single child resurfaced - one Adam, a.k.a Rob, Ryan. Although he knows he should recuse himself from the case, but he can't. He has to know if the murder is connected to the disappearance of his childhood friends. Against their better judgments, Rob and Cassie begin investigating the crime.

The victim is 12-year-old Katy Devlin, a pretty girl who dreamt of becoming a ballerina. A young archeaologist finds her body draped over an ancient stone altar, in the middle of what was once Knocknaree woods, but is now his dig site. After interviewing all the archaeologists, plus Katy's family, the detectives are left with no suspect. There's plenty to arouse suspicion - Katy's mother's not quite right; her sisters make Rob's skin crawl; Mr. Devlin and the archaeologists all vehemently oppose a roadway that will be built through the woods, earning them powerful enemies; and a fanatic student admits to camping near the spot where Katy's body was found. To add to the mystery - and take Rob's breath clear away - evidence found near Katy suggests her death may be tied to the disappearances of Rob's friends.

As Rob continues to investigate, he finds his carefully-constructed present crumbling in the face of past terror. Every day, he's reminded that "In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood" (31). Rob feels the ghosts of his friends hovering, but he can't reach them, can't force himself to remember. The stress of it all eats him away, stealing his appetite, his clear head - even Cassie can't seem to keep him grounded. As Rob feels his self-control slipping away, the case comes together in ways he never imagined. With everything on the line - his career, his best friend, his very sanity - Rob will do whatever it takes solve the mystery of three children whose lives changed forever when they stepped into the woods. Even if it means succombing to the terror that had him clinging to a tree so fiercely his nails broke off in its trunk.

Now, you might think In the Woods is just a heart-pounding thriller a la James Patterson, but it's not. Character plays a huge role in this book. The relationship between Rob and Cassie beats with life, adding a whole new level to the story. It's impossible not to connect, not to root for the detectives. French also weaves a story that twists and turns enough to keep things interesting. If you're a Law & Order/CSI junkie, you won't be too surprised by the Big Reveal, but this novel's really all about the journey. Like I said, it's (very) liberally sprinkled with profanity, but there's little sex and less gore than you would imagine. My biggest beef is that French leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I detest canned, neatly-wrapped endings, but in this case, I wanted more answers. Still, this remains a taut, well-written mystery that will have you tearing through the pages just to find out what's going to happen. Cancel bedtime. You won't rest - or breathe - until you've turned the last page.

Grade: B

(Book image from Barnes & Noble)


  1. This was one of my favorite reads last year. I've heard the her second novel, which follows Cassie, is even better. And there are rumors that she may even go back to those unanswered questions in a future book.

  2. This was one of my favorite reads last year as well! Soo good! I will have to read The Likeness soon.

    Here is my review of In the Wooods incase you're interested :)

  3. I wanted more endings with this, too! Yet, this was still a great read for me. I enjoyed French's 2nd book The Likeness even more, so you have that to look forward to!

  4. Okay, I did not realize her second novel was a sequel. And it's about Cassie, my favorite character. Yay. I guess if this is a series, it makes sense that Tana French didn't answer all the questions. It's still frustrating to me, though. Now, I've got to find a copy of The Likeness.

  5. Well....don't expect everything to be cleared up. Just saying.

  6. I keep hearing such good things about this book - I have GOT to get a copy!

  7. Have only skimmed your post as I am in the middle of this one, too. I'm finding it hard to put down. I want alternately to speed to the ending and slow down as I'm enjoying her writing so much!

  8. OMG! I just purchased this book today along with The memory of water! I can't wait to pick one of them up and start reading them, you helped me decide which one to read first!

  9. I read this at the end of last year on recommendation. It was good, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. I wanted more of an answer to what happened to the kids.

  10. Me again.

    Wanted to let you know that you have been given an award over on my blog:

    Come and check it out! :)

  11. I read this one last year and loved it also. I don't normally read these types of books (I did when I was younger but for some reason stopped when I got a bit older) but this book definitely got me back into the genre.

  12. Definitely check out the follow-up The Likeness. It was even better and, I think, creepier than the first. Here's my review of it if you're interested.


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