In the Woods.
A week ago, I did not know who Tana French was. I was wandering through my happy place- a used bookstore after a particularly stressful day at work, and I picked up In the Woods on the clearance rack for two reasons: 1) I liked the cover and 2) I remembered having vaguely heard of this book. I took it home and could not put it down, and then immediately went out and bought French’s second book (also on clearance- win!), and all told, I have read through 900 pages of Irish murder mystery in the past week.
In the Woods opens with the dead body of a teenage girl being found in an archeological dig site. Enter Detective Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, and throw in an extra complication: this is the same location that Ryan and two of his friends went missing as 12-year-olds. Only Ryan was found, with blood in his shoes and socks, and no idea what had happened to his friends. This event changed the trajectory of his life, especially given his efforts to avoid thinking about the trauma, right up until this case. Enter themes of identity as well, given that very few people know that Ryan was the kid who survived, and it’s a perfect storm for our Irish boy.
French uses the first person, which makes Ryan’s recounting of the case and his not-so-gradual breakdown intensely immediate. In the Woods was not a car wreck that I couldn’t turn away from, but rather a car wreck I couldn’t escape, as I was in the car with Ryan. I wondered what kind of a detective Ryan had been prior to this case, and worried about his liver, and wanted to yell at him when he made his predictable but annoyingly dumb mistakes.
Oh, what a meltdown it was, and still, I liked Ryan at the end of the book, and wanted much more of him and Cassie. And I wanted more of French’s writing, which was surprisingly elegant given that the grisly crime works are not where I go looking to find prose that will move me.
This book is definitely a first novel and was not without its flaws, but I think the fact that I could not put it, or its follow-up down, speaks for itself. Additionally, this was the perfect book to satiate me until The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest comes out later this month. And for anyone to whom I’d like to recommend Larsson but worry about the graphic violence and triggering scenes, I finally have an alternative recommendation: Tana French.