In the Woods by Tana French

A murder investigation cuts too close to the bone for a detective who was once part of a missing persons case himself.


The other Sunday, Superfast Husband had to go to Home Depot after church, and since Superfast Toddler would certainly fall asleep in the car, I needed a book to read while listening to her dulcet snores. We stopped into the murder mystery bookshop nearby, where I asked if they could request anyone who loves Barbara Vine, and likes Ruth Rendell but not as much. Something character-based, with a lot of psychology and not too heavy on the forensics. Another customer snatched In the Woods off the shelf and the premise immediately intrigued me.

When Rob Ryan was a boy, he went by the name Adam and lost his two best friends in a missing persons case that was presumed but not proved to be murder. Rob was found with his shoes full of blood and no memory of what happened in the woods. Now, he is a detective on the murder squad and no one but his partner Cassie knows that he was once Adam. When a body is discovered in the very same woods, Rob and Cassie leap at the case, with Rob swearing up and down that his role won’t be compromised by his personal history. At least, until a possible connection emerges.

Tana French is a first-rate writer, crafting gorgeous sentences and exhibiting total mastery over her storytelling. I would rank her more Rendell than Vine, but Rendell at her finest, which is a pretty fine thing. The case itself was fairly workmanlike, once the solution was revealed, but French’s acute perceptions into the pettiness of human nature made for a fascinating read. She develops a complex and emotionally charged relationship between Cassie and Rob, the outcome of which offers just as much suspense as the whodunit angle.

The story is told by Rob in the first person, and while he’s not a standard unreliable narrator, he is fond of explaining himself in a way that both seduces and highlights the flaws in his own self-examination. I was swept away by the voice French created for Rob. He’s a figure both tragic and complicit, and my heart ached for him on every page.

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