Michael's Reviews > In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French
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's review
Sep 18, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, read-in-2009, to-be-read-challenge
Read in September, 2009

I first heard the hype for "In the Woods" last summer and was intrigued enough by it that I purchased a copy on impulse, fully intended to read it as soon as humanly possible. Then other books distracted me and, a year or so later, it finally worked its way to the top of the "to read" pile.

Thankfully, I was able to stay far away from spoilers for the book in the year it took me to get around to reading it. But when a novel sets high expectations for itself based on the hype surrounding it, one hopes that it can and will deliver.

For the most part, "In the Woods" does deliver, though I still found myself turning the last page a bit disappointed.

The big disappointment is that Tana French sets up two mysteries that, on first glance, seem central to the story. Both involve the disappearance of children and their deaths. The first occurred years before when our narrator was the only one of three children found after they vanished in the woods near their home in Ireland. He was found near a tree, covered in blood and the other two children were never found. The crime was never solved and Rob Ryan's family moved and Ryan changed his identity, becoming a murder detective. However, he's never shared this dark secret with his superiors and the only person who know is his partner, Cassie. When a child disappears near an archeological dig in the same town, Rob and Cassie get the case and it soon appears there may be some ties between the two crimes.

If read strictly as a mystery, "In the Woods" falls a bit short. The novel only solves one of the two crimes and while the denouncement is a satisfying one, if you're looking for completeness, you won't find it here. However, as a novel delving into the psyche of Rob and chronicling how that event has impacted his life ever since that fateful day and his desperate quest to find some redemption from it, the novel works fairly well. Thankfully, French avoids the temptation to have this series of events be the way that Rob completely achieves redemption and, instead, tells the story of his own self delusion and self destruction. By having the novel told from Rob's point of view, French employs the unreliable narrator technique as certain points to allow us inside Rob's mind and thought process. And while the mystery and solving it drives the novel, more compelling is Rob's own self delusion and slow descent into destruction.

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09/18/2009 page 58
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