Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book 191: In The Woods

"I am not good at noticing when I'm happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart's desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern."

Dates read: November 22-26, 2017

Rating: 8/10

I feel like my childhood wasn't that long ago, but it also feels like the world is so different than it was then that I can't imagine my own future hypothetical children having the same kind of experience. There weren't cell phones yet, so when we went outside to play there wasn't any real way to get ahold of us. I grew up on a bay on an inland lake, so the neighbor's houses where we went to play were usually within sight distance, but it's not like my mom just sat there and stared out the window until we came home. There was a freedom, an untethered-ness, that I just don't know would even be possible for a kid today. That doesn't mean that it's worse now, it just means it's different.

After all, there are always bad things that can happen when kids are playing outside. In Tana French's In The Woods, our protagonist, Adam Robert Ryan, is playing with his two best friends in their Dublin suburb when something goes wrong. The children vanish. After a few hours of searching, Adam is found, but the other two are gone. And Adam is covered in blood and has been rendered completely mute by whatever it was he'd experienced. He recovers after a few weeks in the hospital, but has no memory of what might have transpired that day. He's pulled out of his old school and put in a boarding school in England, where he starts going by his middle name and grows up more or less like any other kid. He goes back to Ireland, becomes a cop, and manages to work his way into his dream job working on a murder unit in Dublin, where's he's partnered with Cassie Maddox, the only other person as young as he is. Although they're not dating, they have become intensely emotionally intertwined.

For the first time since he left it as a child, Ryan is pulled back to his hometown when a teenage girl is found murdered on an archaeological dig site. As he and Maddox try to figure out why someone might have killed the aspiring ballerina, he can't help but also start to try to dig around inside his own past for any clues it may offer. They chase down leads and become even closer as the stress mounts, creating a combustible situation as Ryan becomes less and less able to separate the crime at hand from whatever might have happened to him that long-ago summer day.

I very much enjoyed this book...while mystery doesn't tend to be my genre of choice (I find it too often dependent on hiding information from the reader and/or ridiculous plotting to build suspense), French also creates excellent, compelling characters and allows their development to be just as crucial to the story as the twists and turns of the investigation. I was emotionally invested in both Ryan and Maddox and wanted to know more about them and the ways their personal lives impacted their police work. And I thought the central mystery was also very well-done and nicely walked the line between dropping clues that fed into the ending without just spelling it out and laying it out there on a plate for you. Then again, "figuring it out" too early doesn't usually detract from my ability to enjoy the work...I've long maintained that if your story doesn't work unless the reader is surprised, it's not a good story, it's just a good twist.

And while the central mystery is wrapped up, I will warn you away from this book if you hate books that have significant ambiguity to the ending: Ryan is never quite able to piece together what happened that day in the woods. I personally didn't mind it and thought French did a good job with keeping that part of the story relevant even if it never came together, if only for the way it impacted Ryan and his mental/emotional state. This is the first in a series, and I've actually heard quite often that it's the weakest of them, so if this is as bad as it gets (and I thought it was really good), I'm excited to read the rest of them. I'd recommend it to everyone, even if you don't usually like mysteries.

One year ago, I was reading: The Pleasing Hour

Two years ago, I was reading: Station Eleven

Three years ago, I was reading: Behave


  1. I remember liking this one a lot and continued on with the next two in the series. I remember very little about the plots, but I did like her writing and the Dublin Murder Squad has very interesting members.

    1. I've heard that the second one (The Likeness) is actually the best, so I'm especially looking forward to it!

  2. This is the first Tana French book I ever read and I've never forgotten it. Talk about a book having impact. :)