In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods

A gripping thriller and New York Times bestseller from the acclaimed author of Broken Harbor and The Secret Place 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...

Title:In the Woods
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0670038601
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:429 pages

In the Woods Reviews

  • Monique Bos

    I was disappointed in this novel, which seemed so promising at the beginning. The central mystery not only remains unsolved, but a disproportionate amount of the plot is spent on what seems, in the end, a total red herring.

    The narrator appears at the beginning to be a sympathetic, introspective figure, but by the end of the novel he's revealed himself to be whiny, a lousy and disloyal friend, and an inept detective. I found nothing redeeming or engaging about him, and the fact that his negative

    I was disappointed in this novel, which seemed so promising at the beginning. The central mystery not only remains unsolved, but a disproportionate amount of the plot is spent on what seems, in the end, a total red herring.

    The narrator appears at the beginning to be a sympathetic, introspective figure, but by the end of the novel he's revealed himself to be whiny, a lousy and disloyal friend, and an inept detective. I found nothing redeeming or engaging about him, and the fact that his negative character traits were gradually revealed rather than laid out at the beginning made them even less palatable.

    My main problem with this novel, however, was that I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to buy major elements of the plot. These cops are, frankly, idiots who overlook obvious clues and leads. The psychopath is too contrived to be believable, and her motive for murder too facile to work well as fiction. (I have yet to read an interview with a real-life psycho/killer who's this glib and silly.) The female detective's ability to spot a psychopath from a mile away rings a bit false, and the heavy-handed foreshadowing leaves readers waiting for major revelations that never really materialize.

  • Matt

    If I could, I'd probably rate this at 1.5 stars-- it ultimately pissed me off, and annoyed me throughout, but it was good enough to keep me reading and I suppose that should count for something.

    Maybe my opinion has been influenced by reading THE

    immediately prior to this one. That book wasn't perfect, but it had characters you rooted for, didn't wallow too much in pop culture references, and most importantly IT SOLVED THE FRIGGING MYSTERY.

    Let's go through a few of th

    If I could, I'd probably rate this at 1.5 stars-- it ultimately pissed me off, and annoyed me throughout, but it was good enough to keep me reading and I suppose that should count for something.

    Maybe my opinion has been influenced by reading THE

    immediately prior to this one. That book wasn't perfect, but it had characters you rooted for, didn't wallow too much in pop culture references, and most importantly IT SOLVED THE FRIGGING MYSTERY.

    Let's go through a few of these points. First, I don't think I've ever read a mystery novel with a less likable main character/narrator. Rob (Adam) Ryan is an asshole, plain and simple. Sure, he's been warped by his childhood and circumstances, but he does just about every annoying thing you could possibly imagine-- he constantly navel-gazes and feels self pity, he sleeps with then immediately plays the stereotypical male "I don't want anything to do with you now" role with his female partner (the person we were told was his best friend, and whom he would never ever sleep with), he acts like an idiot over the 17 year old villain/ temptress/ psychopath/ whatever betraying his partner, and by the end of the book he is worse off than ever. I know that lots of detectives (esp. in hard-boild stories) are unlikable, and have many personal issues, but this guy just took the cake. I wanted to take a baseball bat to his head. To make matters worse, French throws in this little gem towards the end of the novel:

    "I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light. I am aware that, within an impressively short time of meeting me, Rosalind had me coming to heel like a well-trained dog: running up and down stairs to bring her coffee, nodding along while she bitched about my partner, imagining like some starstruck teenager that she was a kindred soul. But before you decide to despise me too thoroughly, consider this: she fooled you, too. You had as good a chance as I did. I told you everything I saw, as I saw it at the time. And if that was in itself deceptive, remember, I told you that, too: I warned you, right from the beginning, that I lie."

    As if that excused anything... and NO, she didn't "fool" me, because YOU'RE the narrator and YOU'RE the one telling the story. This paragraph probably ticked me off more than anything else in the book.

    Second, the book seriously dates itself with little pop culture references... from Simpsons quotes to mentions of Ricky Martin and The Simple Life. Gah. The beginning of the book felt like a very special episode of FRIENDS where Chandler, Monica and Ross solve a mystery. I'm a pretty big pop culture type of guy, but the references dropped in this novel just annoyed me.

    The last part is a bit more controversial I suppose. There are two central mysteries in this book-- the first, what happened to Katy, DOES get solved in the course of the novel (the "big break" in the case is our hero realizing suddenly that the murder probably took place in a shed about 20 feet from where the body was found! Really?? No one bothered to think of that for a month?), but the deeper mystery about what happened to Rob/Adam and his friends is never resolved. Your mileage may vary about how annoying that is. Truth be told, it didn't annoy me as much as the fact that the true "villain" of the modern mystery walks without being punished in any way. How incredibly unsatisfying.

    I know this was a first novel, so hopefully things will improve for her second book. I know, also, that this book won a major award and that lots of people seem to love it to death, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

    ----

    Since this review seems to be read by quite a few people, I thought I'd include in the review a bit of further rumination that I had in the comments section below.

    ----

    In a bit of serendipity, I just finished reading Graham Moore's THE SHERLOCKIAN this past weekend. In the book, there's a quote from the narrator (supposedly based on some thoughts from Arthur Conan Doyle) talking about how a mystery must have a conclusion lest the audience be left unhappy and upset:

    "Can you write a mystery story that ends with uncertainty? Where you never know who really did it? You can, but it’s unsatisfying. It’s unpleasant for the reader . There needs to be something at the end, some sort of resolution. It’s not that the killer even needs to be caught or locked up. It’s that the reader needs to know. Not knowing is the worst outcome for any mystery story, because we need to believe that everything in the world is knowable. Justice is optional, but answers, at least, are mandatory. And that’s what I love about Holmes. That the answers are so elegant and the world he lives in so ordered and rational. It’s beautiful.”

    I'll take Holmes over Ryan any day of the week.

  • Khanh (the meanie)

    Some books are written deliberately to provoke sadness. It's fucking easy to induce someone to tears when the book is about a dying cancer patient with a labrador retriever whose leg has been amputated, with one ear missing. The most effectively emotional books are the ones where you least expect it. The ones that sneak up on you.

    There are differing degrees of sadness, the type that makes one curl into a ba

    Some books are written deliberately to provoke sadness. It's fucking easy to induce someone to tears when the book is about a dying cancer patient with a labrador retriever whose leg has been amputated, with one ear missing. The most effectively emotional books are the ones where you least expect it. The ones that sneak up on you.

    There are differing degrees of sadness, the type that makes one curl into a ball, sobbing in the wee hours of the morning. I still can't pass by a bookshelf containing the book

    without recalling that memory. Then there are books such as these. It doesn't make a person shudder in pain as much as it leaves one with an overwhelming sense of sadness and a feeling of unfulfillment. Of loss.

    When I picked up this book, so many years ago, I never knew I was setting myself up for heartbreak. Ask anyone who's read this book. Their reply will range anywhere from MY FEELS to WHY DOES TANA FRENCH DO THIS TO US?!

    The damnedest thing is, this book wasn't even MEANT to be sad. It just sneaks up on you. It makes you fall in love with the main character. It makes you sympathize with him. Rob Ryan is not a bad boy. He's a lost one. He is the kind that brings out what little remnants of maternal feelings there exists inside me. He is wounded, without being a new adult asshole. Don't get me wrong, he is sometimes an asshole...while not intending to be.

    He is a little boy, who behaves carelessly without intent to harm. He is imperfect, he runs the other way when the going gets tough. He is scared to face the past, he can't think about the future. All he can do is live in the present, wholly devoting himself to his work because it's the only way he can avoid his shadows.

    He would make a terrible husband. He would make a horrendous boyfriend. He will break your heart, and I don't even care.

    I just want to love him. I just want to take care of him. I want to erase his hurt. I want to obliterate his pain.

    Rarely has there been a character who has broken my heart so badly.

    This is a detective novel, but it's not really. Don't get me wrong, there is an ample amount of investigation in the book. It can hold it's own against any fucking detective novel out there. It just doesn't feel that way because to me, this book is more poetry. I have rarely encountered better writing. I have scarcely encountered more evocative passages. The other books in this series does a better job of investigation, but I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, the series begins, and ends---the universe revolves around this book.

    Do yourself a favor. Lose yourself...

  • Fabian

    This book is amazing... really truly excellent. I took a risk at the UTEP library just picking this out at random... & what true serendipity it was!! This particular week was rife with parties & late nights (daytime reserved for sleep) and all throughout "In the Woods" was a faithful companion... it was a pleasure to get back into it, for it's a dense and meticulous, brilliant piece of literature. It kicks "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"'s ass... people, read this instead!!

    You feel so much

    This book is amazing... really truly excellent. I took a risk at the UTEP library just picking this out at random... & what true serendipity it was!! This particular week was rife with parties & late nights (daytime reserved for sleep) and all throughout "In the Woods" was a faithful companion... it was a pleasure to get back into it, for it's a dense and meticulous, brilliant piece of literature. It kicks "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"'s ass... people, read this instead!!

    You feel so much for the trio of detectives trying to uncover the murder of a teenage girl atop a medieval altar in the woods. The backdrop is Ireland of modern day, & not since 2003's "Veronica Guerin" or more recently the romantic comedy "Leap Year" have I wanted to visit the Emerald Isle so much. Tana French establishes the whodunnit with elegant prose not fit for a bestseller (it is written more a-la Haute Literature than Global Bestseller a-la-mediocre) and the twists & turns are calibrated to hit the protagonist's psyche in clear-cut precision: he too was a victim in the same woods years earlier. Alcoholism and despair follow our lad about, and although it spreads itself way too much in the end, it is the best psychological thriller, I believe, since Robert Harris' "The Silence of the Lambs."

    PS When will I read its sequel? After 6 years it can't come soon enough...

  • Nataliya

    This book is brilliantly cruel -

    There's nothing "feel good" about it. If you like a book to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy at the end, it's not for you. If you like neat resolutions - it's not for you (and if you already read this book, you know exactly what I'm talking about). If you hate being left with

    This book is brilliantly cruel -

    There's nothing "feel good" about it. If you like a book to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy at the end, it's not for you. If you like neat resolutions - it's not for you (and if you already read this book, you know exactly what I'm talking about). If you hate being left with a new question for each question that this story answered - well, yet again, it's not a book for you.

    I loved every page of it, every wordy paragraph, every depressing turn of the story, every soul-shattering instance, every painfully real mistake of the protagonist. I chose reading this book over sleep - a decision I almost came to regret later, having to work a 14-hour day on 3 hours of sleep (

    )- but hey, we all make decisions we wish we could take back (hey, just like Rob Ryan in this book!). And it ultimately was fully worth it.

    Rob Ryan is a detective in the (imaginary) Dublin Murder Squad, assigned to investigate a senseless murder case of a 12-year-old ballet dancer Katy in a little town of Knocknaree. What his supervisors don't know is that 20 years ago he was among the three children who went to play in the woods near Knocknaree, and was the only one to come back under unbelievably strange circumstances, wearing shoes full of blood, and with no memory of what happened to his best friends who forever disappeared in the woods. The investigation forces Rob to revisit the place that has such painful associations for him,

    And it's not the murder story (stories?) but Rob's despair, mistakes, pain, and downward spiral and self-destruction that makes this book so painfully real and fascinating to read. It is a reminder that our worst monsters ultimately do live within ourselves, and that we are our own worst enemies even without ever meaning to be.

    The heart of this book is the story of a friendship between Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox

    . Rob and Cassie start off enjoying that incredible, intense and yet easy, all-forgiving and natural closeness of a friendship I think every person in the world (non-sociopathic, to be exact) longs for.

    It is a friendship that many people do not have a privilege to enjoy after they have grown out of their childhood. It's a friendship that brings nostalgic longing from the very first pages on which it is described. And it is, without a doubt, my favorite part of this book.

    This book takes us onto a journey to the sadness and bleakness and hopelessness. The mystery of what happened twenty years ago to Rob, the psychological fallout he still suffers from decades later, the senselessness of the new murder,

    , the burden of crushing loneliness, the habitual cruelty of the world, the casual mentions of the depressing parts of the society like the persistent corruption. None of this is a feel-good reading. None of this has a resolution that the readers hope for (or any resolution at all for some of the above!).

    I loved this book to pieces, even though I could not shake off the overwhelming feeling of sadness and hollowness after finishing it. I loved it despite (or maybe because?) of the frustrating incompleteness of some plot lines, the frequent lack of resolution, and the unfulfillment of my wishes for the characters and events. I know I will read it again in the future, curious to know how my reading experience will be changed once I know what's coming. In the meantime, I highly recommend it.

    -------------

    Catie's wonderful review that made me pick up this book is

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    My review of the sequel,

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    . The third book in the series,

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    . The fourth book in the series,

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    . My review of the fifth book,

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  • Emily May

    Though the isbn is the same as the one pictured, my edition of this book has a much creepier cover and tagline:

    Needless to say, I was completely expecting something a bit dark and twisted, a creepy psychological murder mystery with an outcome I never would have seen coming. And I got that. But I never expected this book to leave me feeling so... sad. And you know why? Because I cared. Ms French carefully builds up a complex personality for each of her characters, complete with a past, a sense of

    Though the isbn is the same as the one pictured, my edition of this book has a much creepier cover and tagline:

    Needless to say, I was completely expecting something a bit dark and twisted, a creepy psychological murder mystery with an outcome I never would have seen coming. And I got that. But I never expected this book to leave me feeling so... sad. And you know why? Because I cared. Ms French carefully builds up a complex personality for each of her characters, complete with a past, a sense of humour and some serious issues to go with it all, and you can't help but care what happens to the detectives even more than you care what happens with the case.

    Having now read all her other works, I can confirm she isn't just a one trick pony. I also feel more forgiving of this book's ending, which I know bothered many other readers. In hindsight, frustrating as it is, I find it oddly perfect.

    is a deeply psychological read that explores the nature of psychopaths and memory - or lack of. The story is narrated by Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin murder squad, who is sent back to his home town in hopes of unravelling the case of a local child murder. A young girl found dead in the very same woods in which Detective Ryan played as a child. But Rob Ryan has a secret. Years ago two of his friends disappeared whilst playing in those woods and whilst he was with them and a witness to whatever happened, he retains no memory of the events. His friends were never found. The question is: will this new case bring back old memories? Is there some piece of evidence that's waited twenty years to be found in those woods?

    A case like the one Rob and his partner - Cassie - face would leave a very personal mark on anybody, you cannot investigate the murder and sexual assault of a child and keep it just business as usual. As the investigation progresses and leads the pair in a number of directions only to meet with dead end after dead end, it begins to take its toll on the two detectives, they come out of it very different people from those we knew at the beginning. It seemed a very realistic and rather sad progression.

    I'm not saying that every wordy paragraph in this beautifully-written novel was needed, but I personally didn't want them to be taken out. I think the main reason I enjoyed this novel so much was because it is about far more than a murder mystery; it's about all the people involved and how they are affected. And I was honestly on the verge of tears after reading the ending and then reading friends' reviews of the second book in this series and discovering that we never get to hear more from Rob.

    There's a touch of love in this book, just a touch, not enough to be called romance. No descriptive sex. No sweet-nothings. Nothing like that. And yet, it still fucking broke my heart.

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