Loren's Reviews > In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French
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Jul 13, 2008

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Read in June, 2008

From ISawLightningFall.blogspot.com

Three-and-a-half stars

Years ago, one of my father’s clients -- a man from the Emerald Isle named Cosgrove -- dropped by our place and, during the evening, got an insatiable hankering for the hard stuff. So my mother (who was essentially a teetotaler) found a bottle of small-batch scotch someone had given her as a gift and poured him four fingers’ worth. My father began to rib him about his prodigious thirst, but Cosgrove looked at him over his highball with deadly seriousness and said, “Lee, if you were Irish, you’d drink too.”

Detective Robert Ryan, the protagonist of Tana French’s In the Woods, has a few reasons to drink in addition to sharing Cosgrove’s nationality. He’s on the Irish police force’s murder squad, which means he’s hip-deep in grisly murders most of the time. A stabbed convenience store clerk. A homeless man beaten to a pulp. And now a pubescent girl named Katy Devlin found near the Knocknaree woods with her skull caved in. But not only is Ryan an investigator of crimes, he’s a victim of one. Twenty years ago, he and two friends disappeared into the very same forest. Only he came out, dazed and amnesiac, his shoes filled with blood. Has he found a key to his past, or will he crumble beneath the weight of hidden memories?

In the Woods is a first novel, and as such suffers from some flaws. French has a tendency to embed sentences within sentences, piling on em dashes and parentheses, colons and semicolons, until your head's spinning. But after you get a grip on the overgrown style, you have to deal with the genre, which wavers between literary and mystery, only firmly clicking into procedural mode in the book’s second half. And then there’s the problem of Ryan himself, who is more than a little unlikable. He falls into a myopic funk seemingly at every other thought of Knocknaree, ignores crucial clues, bullies witnesses, betrays his partner’s trust, downs stultifying amounts of grog and generally makes a mess of the case. “I am intensely aware, by the way,” he narrates in the closing pages, “that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.”

For all these niggles, though, French succeeds where more-experienced authors fail. Why? She keeps you reading. Indeed, she destroyed my sleep schedule for a week and had me pacing the hallway one Sunday afternoon, book in hand, until my wife began to fear for my mental wellbeing. In the Woods’ action is as tense as a tightrope, and for her skill in keeping me moving to the next chapter, I’ll buy French a pint if she ever shows up in my neck of the woods. Heck, let’s make it two.
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09/24/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by M (new) - rated it 3 stars

M Your review is extremely well-written. I hope French improves with her next novel because I, too, readjusted my schedule to finish this book and was so disappointed.


Loren Thanks, M! I think that French will get better. She seems to have a lot of raw talent.


message 3: by Natalie (last edited Jan 20, 2010 06:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Natalie What are your thoughts on the author revisiting this character and finishing his story? I just finished this (borrowed) book, and was engrossed to say the least, but was hoping for more from the back story.


Loren Natalie wrote: "What are your thoughts on the author revisiting this character and finishing his story? I just finished this (borrowed) book, and was engrossed to say the least, but was hoping for more from the ba..."

I could see French doing so, but I don't know if she has or will. She has completed a sequel, The Likeness, but I haven't read it.


Booksofdoom I must say that so far I have not felt my head spinning while reading this book. On the contrary, I find it quite beatutifully written and a nice contrast to the more rugged language in my previous read.


Loren Nok wrote: "I must say that so far I have not felt my head spinning while reading this book. On the contrary, I find it quite beatutifully written and a nice contrast to the more rugged language in my previous..."

It's been a while since I've read this one, but I think what through me off was French's tendency to stack sentences within sentences. I'm glad you're enjoying it, though.


message 7: by Alex (new)

Alex Nice review, hoss.


Loren Alex wrote: "Nice review, hoss."

Gracias, sir!


Leah This is the most helpful review ever. I just started and begun getting irritated with French's writing style. But after reading your review, I will dig in for the long haul. Happy holidays :)


Laura If she does not write a review with Rob in it explaining things further i will be SO irritated! And yes at times her style was a bit much. At the same time, at least it was different and interesting.


message 11: by Leah (new) - rated it 3 stars

Leah Yes, it was interesting. Problem is that I didn't like how it ended. So I'm not to happy I read the book. I wouldn't recommend it but it had an interesting story line if only it would have summed up at the end.


Laura ah meant to say write a "sequel" not a "review" ha


message 13: by Zak (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zak Great review. I agree almost completely with your assessment. And I had the same experience, never wanting to put the book down. But like others in this thread, I was disappointed by the ending (had expected more closure) and was irritated by Ryan about halfway through the book. Pretty good overall though.


message 14: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Hated this book I felt like it was a huge waist of my time... :(


Connie Ha - my sleep schedule was also disrupted. I should be more upset that the mystery of what happened in 1984 is never resolved (normally a lack of resolution drives me mad), but I felt satisfied with and enjoyed the book nonetheless.


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