Review: In the Woods, by Tana French

This was a thumping good mystery. Well, 3/4 of it anyway, until it fell apart. Here’s the premise: 12-year-old Katy Devlin is found dead, the apparent victim of foul play. Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are assigned to the case. It just so happens that twenty years earlier, two of Rob’s 12-year-old friends disappeared from the very same housing estate. Rob was found, bloody and alone. The others were never found; the case was so notorious Rob changed his name and went to boarding school. Rob remembers nothing from that horrible day, but can’t help wondering if the two cases are linked in some way. He begins a parallel investigation, without revealing his personal interest to his superiors. And there’s one more angle: a land use dispute over a new motorway, with a barely perceptible whiff of corruption.

With three concurrent investigations, the reader meets a myriad of characters and joins Rob and Cassie in poring through forensic evidence. As with any good mystery, we begin making connections and we develop theories. And we come to like Rob and Cassie: they make a great team on the job, and have an unusually deep friendship.

But there are a couple of things that go wrong in this book. I will describe them without spoilers, although it’s difficult to convey their full impact. The first problem is Rob. My husband and I have a recurring and inconclusive conversation about whether authors can write authentically about a character of the opposite sex. I suspect this book is one where most men would say about Rob, “guys aren’t like that.” It’s not that he had a highly developed feminine side, he just did and said things a typical guy wouldn’t do, especially with Cassie (I’m sorry I can’t be more specific). Second, there was a character whose true self was revealed when the case was solved, but their voice wasn’t authentic, and they had improbable traits given some basic facts we already knew about them.

Lots of people would probably disagree with me about this. The mystery was realistic, and the book was a page-turner from start to finish. I enjoyed reading it.  So if you’re intrigued, I say go ahead and read it.  And then let’s talk about it!

I read this as part of a group read hosted by Rebecca @ Love at First Book.  I can’t wait to discuss the ending with the group!

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10 thoughts on “Review: In the Woods, by Tana French

  1. I really enjoyed this one, and I appreciated the parts of the ending that frustrated a lot of readers; they added to the credibility for me, as much as I wished that things had been otherwise in the end. Nonetheless, I did find myself thinking, throughout much of the book, that that male voice/perspective wasn’t entirely credible (certain dimensions of the relating, perhaps the same ones you allude to) and yet, still, was quite content to put those reservations inside and read on. I remember that I was stuck in a line buying train tickets for more than an hour on the day that I had this book with me, and I didn’t mind for a moment, being so happily swept away with these goings-on. Isn’t it funny how certain books stick to certain places?

    • BIP, this would be a great book to read while stuck in a line. I could get lost in it and forget about how long I’d been waiting!

  2. I think that just because a book is a thumping good read doesn’t mean you shouldn’t judge it by the normal standards you’d apply to any book. And if there is something that doesn’t convince then you are being let down. I’ve been in a similar situation and enjoyed a book even though I guessed whodunnit on the first place – I did read the rest of it and liked it, but I had reservations and it’s not a book I would return to.

    • Kaggsy, that’s a great comment about judging books by a set of standards. There are so many things that go into making a book really great. Sometimes you can still enjoy the reading even if it falls short of the mark. That’s the case here — I was really caught up in the story, but just felt let down at the end.

  3. Since I have finished the book, too, I can comment, but I’ll keep it short since we’ll be discussing it for a while starting Sunday! I can’t stand Rob. And actually the majority of the characters (minus Cassie, Sam, and Katy) are kind of unlikable. I agree with your star rating, though. I was underwhelmed! But I did like all the discussion on my blog about the book, that was the most interesting part to me!

    • Rebecca, I’m looking forward to the discussion, that’s been fun. It’s funny, for a long time I really wanted to make myself like Rob, mostly because he was the main character and I assumed French’s subsequent books would feature him. But then I found out the next book is about Cassie, who I liked more, and now I don’t feel so guilty about thinking Rob is kind of a jerk.

      • I wanted to like Rob, too, which is probably why I felt kind of “off” the whole book. He wasn’t bad enough to hate, but not good enough to like.

        I had no idea that the next book is about Cassie. I’d probably enjoy that more! She’s awesome, all tough and average type of girl, not like some model.

  4. I read this not too long ago and can definitely guess what your concerns with the end are. I enjoyed most of the book up to the end, but didn’t have much of a desire to read any of the others.

    • RCR, I’m waffling about reading more of French’s books. My TBR pile is huge so it won’t be anytime soon, but I guess if I came across one of them in a used book sale I’d buy it and then read it … whenever.

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