In The Woods, by Tana French


5 Stars

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 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.
Richly atmospheric and stunning in its complexity, In the Woods is utterly convincing and surprising to the end.

I read this book an entire month ago, and held off on reviewing it until I put together my feelings. Well, enough time has passed for me to say that I am now able to somewhat review this book objectively, but that doesn’t change the fact that this book still broke my heart and stomped on the pieces.

I think this novel affected me in such a way because I didn’t have any advance warning on how it would make me feel. With most gut-wrenchingly sad books, you see it from a mile off; anyone who picks up a book on suicide or cancer goes into it with the awareness that it may not end well.

But In the Woods is different. It’s about Rob Ryan, a murder detective in Dublin who’s investigating the death of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods where two of his friends disappeared 20 years ago- an incident he doesn’t remember. It picks up as an ordinary murder mystery, with detectives chasing down leads an interrogating suspects. As the book progresses and Rob gets closer to the truth, you get excited as well to discover the killer and feel a sense of closure, right? Wrong.

French masterfully weaves a deep psychological aspect into this novel. While it is about the murder overall, it’s also about Rob, and his struggle to figure out what happened in the woods twenty years ago. As the book goes on, you begin to realize that Rob himself is very lost and confused, and Rob becomes increasingly emotionally connected to you in such a way that you don’t even realize how much you’ve grown to care about him until French takes a pickax to it all. This isn’t a “big twist at the end” kind of book, though. You see what’s coming from a bit out, but are powerless to stop it. And that’s what makes this book leave such a hole inside you long after finishing it.

That said, the side characters, relationships, and incredibly intense plot are wonderfully written. Rob and his relationship with his partner and best friend Cassie is one of the strongest parts of this novel, and I’m sad to hear from reviews of future books that we never hear from Rob again in later books in this series.

The writing is also gorgeous, but extremely difficult to get the hang of. This being an adult novel and not my usual YA, I had some difficulty initially immersing myself in this novel, but once I became accustomed to French’s love for very big words and extremely verbose sentences, I was able to read and enjoy it. So, while the rest of this review praises this novel to no end, I will warn you that if you’re looking for a lighter novel and do not wish to put mental effort into reading, I would not recommend In the Woods for you.

I both loved and hated this novel, and in a way, I think that’s what makes it great. If you’re more of a sophisticated reader with time on your hands, by all means, read In the Woods immediately.

Happy Holidays!