Tana French is one of my favorite new-to-me authors and the newest member of my Authors I Wish Were My Best Friends club. She can expect her badge in the mail any day now.
In the Woods is her debut novel and that makes me want to scream because it’s obnoxiously good. I don’t usually seek out murder mysteries, didn’t even know that’s what this is. A friend lent it to me with a rare confidence, certain I’d love it and I did. It has this dark and creepy atmosphere with a frustratingly opaque main character. At its heart is the kind of mystery that sends small towns reeling.
I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities.
One average day in the small Irish town of Knocknaree, two boys and a girl walk into the woods. Only one is ever found, covered in their blood with no memory of what happened. He grows, changes his first name and becomes a member of Dublin’s Murder Squad. That sounds like a gang of killers but it’s the opposite, they’re homicide detectives.
Ryan and his new partner Cassie aren’t rookies, but they’re not exactly ready for the case that lands in their laps. A little girl’s body is found on a Druidic altar at an archaeological site in the town of … Knocknaree. This new case has disturbing similarities to an old cold case, which “Rob” Ryan has done his best to conceal his personal connection to. In no time, he find himself trying to simultaneously solve both twisted cases.
Ryan and Cassie are smart detectives and a natural team, but they keep hitting either dead ends or ties to his two long-missing friends. Until this case, the first 12 years of his life were gone from his memory. Now fragments trickle back, leading him always back to the Knocknaree wood. You know Ryan is going to have to confront his past at some point, but it’s not up to him how or when and that creates continuous tension on top the pressure to solve the case and fact that a murderer is running around.
I was an intruder here, now, and I had a deep pricking sense that my presence had instantly been marked and that the wood was watching me, with an equivocal, collective gaze, not yet accepting or rejecting; reserving judgment.
Reading this felt a lot like watching one of Hitchcock’s films. It’s full of nuance and eerie undertones, and steeped in atmosphere. You’re trying to compartmentalize the clues and solve the case before Ryan. However, your puzzling is based on information gathered and supplied by an unreliable narrator, an admitted drunk and liar. Sooooo …
At some point I became more interested in solving Ryan than the case. He is what trauma looks like, a living example of how deep it can cut. The story is dark and the characters are not exactly a good time, but I couldn’t put this down. Stayed up late into the night reading this, wishing I were reading it in the woods. French does a lot of things well in this, but more than anything the setting is what got under my skin. She taps into this universal tendency we have to accept the lure and almost mystical quality of wild woods.
I kind of wish I saved this one for the fall, but apparently French has a new book coming out in September, The Secret Place. She’s definitely going on my list of Read Every Book Ever Written By.