Faye Rapoport DesPres

"In the Woods"

I just finished reading Irish author Tana French’s first mystery: In the Woods. It’s difficult to “review” a mystery without giving away too much about the plot or the conclusion, so I will stick to the generalities here.

I downloaded the book onto my Kindle after my friend and colleague, writer/editor Joan Schweighardt, recommended it. Joan told me she couldn’t put French’s mysteries down after starting them, and I was looking for a book that would get me through a couple of flights and some other down time. As much as I love the classics, I do enjoy getting absorbed in a book that leans more toward pop culture or mystery now and then. It’s tough for me to turn off the hard-working parts of my brain, and sometimes it’s nice to relax and have fun.

Joan was right — I found it difficult to put In the Woods down, at least once I was about a third through the story. Two mysteries are presented to the reader from the start — the long-ago, unsolved disappearance of two children in a wood outside Dublin, in an incident that left one child survivor who could not remember what happened, and the murder of a young girl twenty years later, whose body is found in the same wood.

The narrator (the book is written in the first person) is Rob Ryan, a murder detective who, unbeknownst to most of the other characters in the story, was the third child in the woods years ago. The premise is intriguing; not only is the reader trying to work out the current murder mystery, but the reader is also waiting to see if Rob’s memory will return, helping to solve the possibly more compelling mystery from his youth.

I’ve read numerous comments about the quality of the book; some reviewers quibble with various aspects of the writing, calling the book longer than it needs to be, and noting that the solution to one aspect of the present mystery is more obvious than the author intended it to be (I agree with that – I figured a couple of things out relatively early on that the author clearly expected to be a surprise). But I thought the writing was good, generally tight and compelling. There were a number of descriptions and phrases I admired, and I enjoyed the fleshed-out facets of the appealing central characters (although the characterization and motivation of the narrator seemed muddy at certain points).

I won’t say much more to avoid giving too much away, but overall, I enjoyed this book. True, I was disappointed in a couple of aspects of the ending, and a general chorus of reviewing readers agrees with me. But I think “In the Woods” is a good, solid read – it definitely kept me up late for a couple of nights. I’m told French’s second and third books are also strong, and the next one is certainly on my “to read” list.