Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French
“What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this -- two things: I crave truth. And I lie.”
A few years ago when I was part of a book club, we read probably five thrillers out of the six or seven books we actually discussed. And I didn't like any of them. It was right after Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train became wildly popular, so we tried to find the next big thriller, but I never got into that genre. But in the last year or so, I have seen more readers raving about Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series and Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. They say they are great mysteries and excellent characters, and bonus, don't have "girl" or "woman" in the title. I picked up the first book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods, from the library a few weeks ago. Detective Rob Ryan and his partner Detective Cassie Maddox get the call that a young girl’s body has been found at an archaeological dig in Knocknaree, a suburb of Dublin. What follows is not only the investigation into Katy Devlin’s murder, but also how it may relate to a twenty-year-old case involving three children from Knocknaree, two of the children's bodies were never found and the sole survivor was Adam Ryan who could not remember anything. Adam grew up, changed his name to Rob, and became a detective with the Dublin Murder Squad. Cassie is the only other police officer that knows the truth. And Ryan decides to use Katy Devlin’s case to see if he can find out what happened to his two best friends, Peter and Jamie, and attempt to find some closure.
Ryan and Maddox head to Knocknaree to begin the investigation. When they are the ones to break the news to Katy’s family, both Rob and Cassie agree the family has something to hide. One possible angle is Katy's father's involvement with a grassroots organization campaigning against a new motorway going right through the town and site of the archaeological dig. Jonathan Devlin is the head of Move the Motorway and had received several threatening phone calls. Also Ryan remembers Devlin as one of the guys that used to hang around the woods when he, Peter, and Jamie were kids, so he and Maddox check into Devlin’s background to see if he could be connected to both cases. Katy’s home life also raises some red flags for the detectives. Starting around the age of eight, she would get violently ill on a semi-regular basis over the next few years, and had to miss school and ballet lessons. She even had to put off her acceptance to the Royal Ballet School for a year because of these bouts of illness. The detectives think this means abuse on the part of one or both of Katy’s parents, but it doesn’t seem like Katy’s twin sister, Jessica, or her older sister Rosalind exhibit any of these symptoms. As they look into the Devlin family, they also pursue some of the guys on the archaeological dig. For weeks, they follow up on all leads and are exhausted trying to figure out what exactly happened to Katy.
Ryan and Maddox have been partners for a few years, are best friends, and have that rare relationship where they almost always know what the other is thinking. It makes for a dynamic partnership. They know exactly how to play suspects and witnesses. Rob and Cassie both felt like outsiders when they first joined the Murder Squad, so it is only natural that they gravitated towards each other. Neither one of them has ever pined for the other in a romantic sense, which seems baffling to everyone around them. But as the Devlin investigation goes on, Rob suffers not only from the horrors of a child’s murder, but what it could mean for his own trauma and Peter and Jamie’s disappearance. Rob quickly begins to lose his mind, and his relationship with Cassie cracks under all the pressure.
I could not get enough of this story. Ryan says at the beginning of the book that he craves truth, but he also lies. In the first third of the book, I forgot about the lying part, but as the book goes on, Ryan quickly became an unreliable narrator. His reaction to certain things (especially his interactions with Cassie) made me groan out loud and want to punch him in the face, but it definitely paid off in the grand scheme of the novel. However, I do think the book was about 30 pages too long; it could have wrapped up perfectly without some of the last few pages.
Tana French has that rare ability to immediately immerse you into her world; I could picture everything she described as if I was really there. I read the first book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, Still Life, in 2016, and while I really enjoyed it, it definitely did not pull me in like Tana French did with In the Woods. I would describe Penny’s books as cozy mysteries, while French’s books lean more towards thriller than cozy. I loved French’s writing and cannot wait to continue reading her series. The second book in the series, The Likeness, focuses on Cassie, whom I adored, so I will definitely be picking that up soon!
I really enjoyed In the Woods and would recommend it to anyone who likes a great story with complex characters and do not mind hating some of the choices the characters make. I give this one 4 stars!
Let me know if you prefer Louise Penny or Tana French.