In The Woods by Tana French

237209I borrowed this book from my sister about a year ago with the best of intentions to read it as soon as I could. A year later, I made it happen! And now I want all of French’s other novels ASAP. Such a fun literary mystery reading experience.

I’m sure everyone knows what In The Woods is about by now, but I’ll give a little recap for those who might need one. Basically, in 1984 three children in a Dublin, Ireland suburb are playing in some nearby woods when they don’t return home for dinner. When their parents form a search group, only one of the children (Adam Ryan) is discovered, grasping a tree, blood-filled shoes (not his), and with absolutely no memory of what transpired. The other two children are never found and no one knows what happened to them. Flashforward 20 years and Adam Ryan is all grown up – going by his middle name, Robert, and now a detective on the murder squad. He still doesn’t remember what happened when he was 12 and has spent his life hiding his identity until another 12 year old is found murdered in those same woods. Mystery ensues.

French’s novel is not your typical murder mystery in that the writing is so lush and filled with vivid imagery. The plot, while excellent, wasn’t the only driving element of the story as in so many mass marketed mystery tales. Besides the whodunnit, French weaves a beautiful story centered around Rob and his partner, Cassie, their relationship, and how it’s deeply affected by this particular case they are working. I loved Cassie so much and enjoyed Rob as well – especially as they struggled with the age old question of whether or not men and women can just be close friends without involving emotions and sex.

As for the mystery, I think French did an amazing job plotting the story and creating the perfect pacing. I honestly have a hard time believing this is her debut novel. Before reading, many warned me about how disappointing the ending would be. And no, the ending isn’t happily-ever-after and answers aren’t always found, but that’s life and how the events unfolded felt sincere. So if you are looking for a Hollywood ending, you won’t find it here. Perhaps going in with the warning helped me temper my expectations. At the same time, I do feel a wee-bit frustrated at some of the things we don’t discover, but that frustration didn’t ruin my experience.

I’d also add that the killer was fairly obvious very early on, but I don’t think French meant for it not to be. I think the psychological journey the novel takes in trying to understand the why and the details is far more intriguing than merely who.

I’ve heard the other three novels in this series are even better so I can’t wait to get my hands on copies. For those who have read them all, which is your favorite? Anything you’d like to warn me about going forward? I’m intrigued that the second book is from Cassie’s point-of-view, but excited since I really did like her as the female lead.