Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. [pg 3]


In the Woods by Tana French
Penguin Books, 2007
Crime Fiction, 429 pgs


I am not sure where to begin with this review. In the Woods is not a mystery that had me rushing to turn the pages. Rather, I wanted to take it slow and savor every word. Tana French is a beautiful writer who appears to take great care with each word she writes.

The novel is dark and the subject matter heavy. A young girl is found murdered at an archeological site in Knocknaree, Ireland, and detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are assigned to investigate. Detective Ryan knows he should not be on the case. At the age of 12, he had been the only one found after the disappearance of him and his two best friends in the very woods where Katy’s body was discovered. His shoes were filled with blood, and, to this day, he has no memory of what happened that fateful day. His past has haunted him off and on all his life, and suddenly, it is placed front and center. He wants to remember. And he and Detective Maddox, one of the few who knows about his past, are determined to discover whether a link between the twenty year old disappearances has anything to do with the recent murder.

Tana French’s gift lies not just in crafting an utterly intriguing story, but also in creating characters that are complicated and very much three dimensional, from the big players in the novel to the minutest of characters. The author did an amazing job of capturing the stress and tension an ongoing and high profile investigation like Katy’s murder brings with it. It weighed heavily on everyone involved, including the protagonist and his partner. The longer the investigation went on, the more dead ends they encountered, and even the closer they came to the truth, the more strain it put on them.

Ryan and Maddox had an extremely close relationship. The two were like siblings in many ways. They knew each other inside and out. They both carried their own baggage, and while they shared much about themselves, including some of their darkest secrets, they still held a few things back. This bond between them made them even better at their job in many ways, or so it seemed in the beginning.

Part of the reason I decided to read this book when I did was as part of an online book discussion. I got to it a little late, but one of the bonuses of online groups is that the questions and discussion live on after everyone else has set the book aside for something else. I thought about incorporating some of the questions and answers into my review, but that really wouldn’t work. Too many spoilers. I will say though that this book makes for good discussion fodder!

The ending seems to be the most controversial part of the book. Many people were left disappointed for reasons I’ll refrain from giving here. I actually quite liked the ending. I wish I could say more because there’s a lot I liked about it, but, well, you know how it goes. A little something called spoilers.

This is one of my shorter reviews for a book that deserves more. I can see why so many people have recommended this book, and you can bet I’m adding my voice to that chorus.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

You can learn more about Tana French and her books on the author's website.


© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

45 comments:

  1. Innocently, I listened to The Likeness on audio earlier this year, not knowing it was the sequel to this book (I hate it when that happens!). It wasn't too critical, as The Likeness was focused solely on Cassie, but it does refer back to this case and Rob Ryan. It was a fabulous story; excellent writing, character development abound, with a brain teasing mystery. So I went out and bought In the Woods and it still sits on my shelf. I have heard people say that hated this book, and some that loved it, so I was a little concerned, but am glad you came out on the side of "loved it". I do trust your opinion!

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  2. I bought this book the first time I read a review for it - but I have yet to read it myself. It sounds exactly like the kind of story that I would enjoy.

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  3. I've heard alot about this book and it sounds really good. Excellent review!

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  4. I am glad that you reviewed this book when you did. I have it on my bookshelf and I have been wondering recently whether I should read it or not because I couldn't find any reviews of it in the blogosphere. And then you come along and voila! Now, In the Woods will jump up to the top of my reading list.

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  5. I really, really liked this book. I was one who didn't mind the ending. I know a lot of people were displeased. I have THE LIKENESS here and need to read it soon. I think this is an author that has a bright future ahead.

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  6. I read this book last year precisely BECAUSE of the ending contraversy. If I hadn't known that many readers were disappointed by the conclusion, I would have thought it was just another ambiguous ending designed to get readers to come to their own conclusions. I like stories like that!

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  7. I'm so glad you liked this book. If you can believe it, The Likeness is better. I can't wait until her third novel.

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  8. I'm so glad you liked this one. I thought it was great. I'm in the camp who wasn't annoyed at all by the ending. I'm looking forward to reading The Likeness.

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  9. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it! I was on the fence about the ending for a couple of days. Once I started thinking of this book less in terms of "mystery" novel then I thought the ending was perfect. This is definitely one of those books that crosses the genre line. Wait til you read the next one! :)

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  10. Gah! You're making me want to read this right now! I got a copy a few months ago but still haven't read it. I'm glad to read another very positive review though and will have to squeeze it in one of these days.

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  11. Wow! Another blogger sent me this book and I am really anxious to read it.

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  12. I savored this one too and although the ending is not as satisfying as some wanted it to be, I felt that it was realistic. I would have been disappointed if it had ended any other way.

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  13. I think I need to dig this out and move it up in the TBR stack, especially since it qualifies for both of the reading challenges I need to complete before the end of this year!

    Great review, Wendy! A lot of people have liked this one, and I always appreciate your thoughts.

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  14. I am glad you liked this one Wendy! While I didn't like the ending, it was certainly believeable. I read The Likeness as well, and thought it wasn't as good as In the Woods, but I have a feeling you will enjoy that one as well. I agree with the savoring, it is definitely a book that is enjoyed by taking in each and every syllable.

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  15. I am so excited because I already have this on my TBR pile and after reading your review I need to move it up my list of books to read. Great review!

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  16. Knowing that you wanted to savor the reading makes me feel good because this one is on my shelf just waiting for me someday!!

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  17. This has been on my list for a long while. So long that I completely forgot what it was about or why it was on there! Thanks for reminding me :)

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  18. Great review!
    I've had this one for a while now, but I have yet to read it. Your review makes me want to pull it out from the pile! With the weather getting dark and rainy, it might be just the kind of book I need.

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  19. This is one of those books that I look at in every bookstore I visit. Its cover just tempts me. I'm glad to know that the story is good, too. It may soon be joining my TBR pile (stockpiling for Christmas vacation, at this point).

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  20. This isn't my normal sort of book, but I plan to read it anyways. I picked up a copy at the second hand store the other day.

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  21. Great review, Wendy, even though it's shorter than your usual ones. I still enjoyed reading it.

    This book is in my wish list for the longest time. I need to get it soon as soon as my book-buying ban is lifted. :)

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  22. I wasn't crazy about this one...I thought the supernatural hints that went nowhere were misleading and unnecessary...I kept waiting for further spookiness only to be disappointed. But the second book...that one, I liked!

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  23. I reviewed this book in July - I really liked it. The problems I had with the ending were more related to the presentation of the narrator as unreliable. It's fascinating, and very very good characterization. I have to get the second one now, which all accounts say is better than the first! What did you think of the victim's sister, was she scary or what?
    I enjoyed your review, and I understand the fear of giving away spoilers, especially in mysteries!

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  24. Argh--I have this in Mount TBR but I'm not going to get to it for a while and it sounds so good!

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  25. Sandy - I hate it when I read a book out of order with realizing it. Since I began reviewing books, I sometimes do read books out of order these days, but it goes against the grain and I feel guilty about it still. Fortunately in most cases it really doesn't matter. I've heard The Likeness is even better than In the Woods. I can't wait to read it.

    Molly - This one had been sitting on my shelf for awhile before I finally decided it was time. I'm glad I finally took a chance on it.

    Yvonne - Thank you! It was good.

    Lilly - I hope you enjoy it, Lilly! I'll watch your blog for your review. :-)

    Kay - I thought the ending was very well done. I was glad the author didn't try and wrap things up tightly. I hope to read The Likeness before the end of the year. We'll see how that goes. :-)

    Karen - There's nothing like a little controversy to work up an appetite for a book! I find that happens to me often. I like to know what all the fuss is about. :-)

    I like ambiguous endings too--at least if it fits the book. It definitely did in this case.

    Amanda - I've heard The Likeness is better. In reading the description, it sounds like it will be really good. I can't wait to read it.

    SuziQ - I'm glad you enjoyed this one too. Here's hoping we like The Likeness just as much, if not more. :-)

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  26. Iliana - Yes, In the Woods definitely does cross over that genre line. I can't wait to read the next in the series.

    Nat - I know the feeling! There are so many books I want to read right now--all at once. I just don't have the time. Hopefully you can squeeze this one in soon. And if not, that's okay too. You can enjoy it later. :-)

    Kathy - I hope you enjoy it!

    Ti - I agree. The ending was definitely realistic. I thought it fit the novel very well.

    Florinda - I'd love to read your thoughts on it, Florinda. There's so much to this one.

    Kristie - After reading the description of the two before I read In the Woods, I actually thought The Likeness sounded more appealing. It will be interesting to see what I think of it when I read it.

    Kathleen - Thank you! I hope you will enjoy it when you get to it.

    Staci - I really liked Tana French's writing style. I love it when a book is both supsenseful and beautifully written and this one was both.

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  27. I really liked this book, but I was one of the people disappointed in the ending. In a different genre, I don't think I would have been bothered as much, but I expect certain things from a mystery. (Trying not to give anything away.)

    Great review! I am definitely planning to read The Likeness - just haven't found time yet.

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  28. Stacy - LOL I have books like that on my TBR shelves too.

    Kay (Infinite Shelf) - Thank you! Dark and rainy weather would be perfect for this one. :-)

    Lizaanne - The cover does draw a person to it, doesn't it? If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it!

    Kelly - I hope you will like it! It's very dark.

    Alice - Thanks, Alice! I'm sure the book will be around for awhile. Enjoy it when you get to it.

    Jill (Softdrink) - That's interesting. I never really got a supernatural vibe from In the Woods. There was certainly references to historical superstitions and myth and then the dream sequences, but it didn't cross my mind to interpret any of that as supernatural.

    Susan - The unreliable narrator definitely gives one pause for thought at the end. It makes for a great discussion in a book group, that's for sure.

    I actually figured out early on what the outcome would be--at least the main part of it. It didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book at all though.

    Lisa (Lit&Life) - I know the feeling! I'm in the same boat with several books I wish I could get to sooner than later. You'll get to it when the time is right. :-)

    Carrie (B&M) - There really is a wide range of opinions about the ending of this one. In my mind, it makes this book all the more intriguing. :-)

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  29. I liked this one, but having just finished The Likeness I have to say that I think that the second book is definitely the better of the two. It does however help to read this book because even though Rob isn't in The Likeness and it isnt about Operation Vestal, they both certainly influence the events in The Likeness.

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  30. I so glad you enjoyed this one. Some of the reviews seemed mixed, but I guess I'll need to read it and decide for myself.

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  31. I really enjoyed this book as well and am looking forward to reading The Likeness at some point. The ending bothered me a bit but it was such an amazing read overall that I ended up letting it go. Great review!

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  32. I bought this book after reading some stellar reviews! Her writing is beautiful according to the few pages that I have read through at the store. I love books that are controversial so I'll be in for the twist and surprises.

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  33. Okay, this is going to make me sound like a big, fat baby but I was so pissed off that there was no answer to the children's disappearance! I loved the writing, I loved the mood, I love thinking of all the possibilities, but I really wanted to know what happened to them...

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  34. I loved this book, and like you I liked the ending too! I can't wait to hear what you'll think of The Likeness if you decided to read it! ;)

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  35. I think this sounds interesting but because of what I've heard about the ending it put me off. That's the whole reason I wanted to read it in the first place.

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  36. Beautiful review, LitFeline. I bought this book probably last year when everyone was raving about it. Also bought the 2nd. Now I just need to make the time to read them. The controversy over the ending just makes me more anxious to find out why the different views.

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  37. Now that I'm (at long last :P) determined to make time for mysteries, I really need to get my hands on this and The Likeness. It sounds exactly like the kind of book I'd love. Fantastic review!

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  38. This one has been on my shelf forever, I really need to get to it. Every single time I see a review it freshens my need to read it.

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  39. Marg - Thanks for the tip, Marg. A friend of mine has been wondering if she should read In the Woods before The Likeness, and not having read the second one, I wasn't sure what to tell her.

    Diane - I'd love to hear your take on it!

    Samantha - There was so much to this book, wasn't there? Hopefully it won't take us too long to get to The Likeness.

    Matt - The writing really is beautiful. It is one of those books that definitely crosses over into the literary category, I think.

    Bellezza - Haha! No, you don't sound like a baby. Quite a few people were upset by the lack of closure in that regard and I can understand it. Maybe someday the author will come back to it and we'll find out.

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  40. Melody - I'm so glad I finally got the chance to read this one. Hopefully I'll be able to get to The Likeness soon.

    Jen - I thought the ending was quite fitting, but I know there are those who would have preferred something more.

    Booklogged - Thank you! You're just like me. Let them sit and marinate on the shelf for awhile before getting to them. Hopefully you will enjoy both when you get to them.

    Nymeth - I definitely would recommend this one to you, Nymeth, even as a reader who is more or less new to mysteries.

    Lisa - I know the feeling! I hope you will enjoy it when you get to it.

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  41. I've had this book on my TBR pile for a long time, but I should really pick it up... it sounds like a perfect fall read!

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  42. I'm a little late to the game here but I am so interested in this book because of your review. I especially want to read the ending! lol But I love mysteries and Ireland but what really intrigues me is that this is a book that though a mystery is better read slowly and savored. That tells me it's something special. It sounds to me like this story focuses on some parts of an investigation not often touched on in stories, such as the stress and how it wears on people involved.
    Thank you!

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  43. Fyrefly - I think it would make a great fall read. :-) I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    Amy - There really is a lot to this book and the personal aspect is very well done. I do hope you will get the chance to read this one, Amy.

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  44. This one is inching its way to the top of my TBR Pile. I will make sure I take my time (if that's possible) and savor the words. :)

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  45. Joy - Yeah, with some books, it's hard to savor the words when you'd rather be racing through to see what happens next. :-)

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