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In the Woods Book Cover

Title:  In the Woods

Author:  Tana French

No. of Pages:  429

First Released:  2007

Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.”

Comments and Critique:  I am finding this an incredibly difficult book to review without giving away major plot points.  In fact, I am going to have to forego that particular policy for this review because my feelings about the book are directly tied to what occurs within its pages.  Therefore, consider yourself forewarned.  There may be spoilers ahead.

The book is a murder mystery and a psychological thriller, and the two are not necessarily the same plot line.  Ryan’s past, and the effects of that ongoing mystery, impact every action Ryan makes both in the past and in what the reader sees.  The suspense lies in the idea of Ryan being able to recognize the damage done in 1984 before it ruins the current murder investigation.  Because of this dichotomy, I found myself alternating between cheering for Ryan.  I hoped he would be the hero who conquers his demons and solves both mysteries by the last page.  I also wanted to shake and slap him upside the head when he started to fall apart.

The shocking conclusion to the story does provoke its own questions.  Does the hero deserve a happy ending?  Was it justified?  While it shakes every idea I ever held regarding endings and what is supposed to happen in them, I do feel that In the Woods does have an appropriate resolution.   The point of the story is not whether Ryan ever remembers what occurred in the woods in 1984.  Rather, it is about realizing the psychological impact that day had on him and the rest of his life.  The event in 1984 and the current-day murder are just two events that help him confront his demons.

Throughout the novel, he faces tests of basic assumptions he has held over the years – never giving thought to what he lost that day, never considering what his life would have been like had nothing ever occurred.  This psychological torment is both fascinating and painful to watch, and yet a reader cannot turn away. I contribute this to Ms. French’s ability to write.  Each sentence was so vivid in its clarity and impact that I felt I was an active participant physically present in each scene of the investigation.  She has chosen each word for maximum impact on the reader, and she is very successful at it.  Each sentence literally compels the reader to continue to read, resulting in many a late night.

In the end, I found this an absolutely fascinating novel.  I was sufficiently impressed with Ms. French’s writing to add her next book to my wish list.  I loved the emotional roller coaster I was on while reading; it kept me actively engaged and eager to continue to read.  The differences between the primary and secondary plot are subtle and masterfully maneuvered.  I will be highly recommending this to anyone who enjoys psychological mysteries.

I am curious what others think of In the Woods.  Did the ending bother you to the point where you no longer want to read another novel by Tana French?  Was it justified? 

This book fulfills an entry for the 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, the Read ‘n Review challenge, the Thriller and Suspense Challenge, and the Reading Rainbow Challenge.  For the FTC, I purchased this book with my own money.

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