2009: 87. In the Woods

“Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950’s”

In the Woods, Tana French.

        I was lent this mystery novel, which is also a New York Times best-seller, with a caveat - “I liked it until the last quarter,” said my friend Tara.  “Not a bad book, but I hated the narrator,” my friend Michelle added.*  With those caveats, I started in on French’s debut, a murder mystery (of a 12 year old girl, yikes), set in modern day Ireland.  Our narrator is Rob, a murder detective, who is carrying his own secret - when he was a young boy he and his two best friends went out to play in the woods one day and he was the only who came back.  They found him in the woods, covered in blood, with no memory of what had happened, and no one ever saw hide nor hair of the other two.  He changed his name, and mostly forgot about the past (he has no memory of the time before he was 12) but then this child murder happens, right in the same neighborhood, and Rob begins to suspect that it might be related to the earlier disappearances...

       My take away is that this is a decent novel, but not much of a mystery.  I figured out the murder, and early - and you all know I am totally crap at that.  I rarely ever read a mystery and say “oh, X was totally involved” - I am the famous original rube.  So French must have been pretty heavy-handed.  It wasn’t the mystery that kept me reading though - it was the characters, particularly tortured Rob and his partner/best friend Cassie, and their relationship, which leads to the SPOILER, comment that I understood why everyone was so conflicted about the book.  French creates these pretty great characters (if perhaps a bit Mary-Sueish in their perfect platonic relationship - in real like you’d want to kill them I think*), and then blows up their relationship, and there isn’t really any closure. In fact, I was left wanting to read the sequel (which is a mystery with Cassie as the narrator) to see what will happen with those crazy kids.  Only I hear through the grapevine nothing is really resolved therein either.  So you end the book sort of hanging - and the author doesn’t quite convince you that it’s purposeful (like its meant to show you that life is hard, or we can’t always get what we want or whatever), but rather that its a plot flaw.   And I am left agreeing with Tara that I liked the book until the end - if not with Michelle, since I agreed that Rob was a mess, but I liked him, even if he did ruin his whole life.  It’s funny - this isn’t a perfect book by any stretch, but I highly recommend it, because I enjoyed reading it, and am left thinking about it, even as I admit it has flaws.  And yea, I’m going to get the sequel as soon as I can.

*well, via e-mail, cause she’s still living in Belgium, but you get the picture. 

** Well, if you assume Rob is telling the truth about the relationship and its not all a big sublimation of him making it seem magical because he is OBVIOUSLY in love with Cassie and somehow doesn’t know it. I am willing to give Ms. French the benefit of the doubt that that is what she was really trying to do here. 


Date/Place Completed:  August 6, 2009, D.C.

Categories:  Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017