Sunday, August 3, 2014

In the Woods by Tana French

 Tana French
 Viking Adult 2007

Reviewed by carol
 ★ ★ ★ ★

I started this series out of chronological order, which only increased my appreciation for French. By some odd chance, I happened upon a new copy of her second book, The Likeness, in the library just waiting to be checked out, while In the Woods had a wait list of at least 100 people. I followed with Faithful Place, immersed myself in Ireland of forty years ago and promptly forgot to get on the waiting list for Woods.

For a first book, Woods is impressive, not only because French takes risks with her narrative. It’s a psychological mystery, an exploration of friendship and a slow disintegration of personality. I loved it, even as I dreaded the direction of the story. In brief, Rob Ryan is a detective on Dublin’s Murder Squad. One day, the squad gets its first woman detective, Cassie Maddox. The two have an instant attraction and immediately begin a deep friendship. They happen to catch a case in which a 12 year-old girl is found murdered at an archeological dig, right where a highway exchange is supposed to be built (shades of Arthur Dent that I half-heartedly tried to ignore). Perhaps completely coincidentally, it is in the same small suburb that Ryan’s two childhood friends disappeared when they were twelve. Ryan himself has no memory of the incident, and very few memories of the times after, but the case brings bits flashing back.

What a challenge! Ryan tells us from the start: “What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this–two things: I crave truth. And I lie.” Is our narrator unreliable? Or not? The outright acknowledgement that he might not be kept me guessing. At first, I loved his narrative voice. Descriptions of himself and his two twelve-year-old friends, ‘Jamie,’ and Peter, reminded me indelibly of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and the gold-edged memories of summer days and best friends. Ryan captures some of that lost intimacy with Cassie, and it seems almost the first time since then that he has re-connected with another person. His voice had me chuckling with humor and sighing at his cynicism (see my numerous updates while I was getting my car’s oil changed). Then oh-so-slowly the voice changed, subtly, distractedly. I won’t say too much more except that it was extremely well done (view spoiler)

I love French’s writing; the vivid descriptions, the integration of memories into narrative and her character development of her primary characters. Perhaps it fell apart a little at the end, and the red herrings weren’t developed enough to be seriously considered. It felt a little more hurried after the slow pace of the beginning, but these are minor quibbles.

The finish was stunning, if my ‘stunning,’ you mean a slap to the face right after someone answers your questions. Although I never deliberately avoid spoilers, for some reason I had not read any reviews before starting Woods that discussed various issues with the ending. Somewhat discombobulated, I went looking around for insight into French’s process, and why she choose to do what she did. Interesting interview:…

Yep, definitely kept me thinking after I closed the pages. But also while I read them. Highly recommended.