In the Woods by Tana French
Every time Eleanor of Elle Thinks mentions Tana French (the latest being here), I say ‘I must read one of her books’. Tana French is one of Eleanor’s go-to comfort reads, and she is always recommending her. Well, now I have read French’s first novel, and I can see why Eleanor thinks she’s so good. In the Woods was 485 pages in hardback (more in paperback), but I devoured it over a couple of nights, staying up, gripped by its unfolding drama.
My copy of this book had been on my shelves for a couple of years. A hardback first edition no less, which I picked up at a local book sale for a couple of quid – just look at those deepest brown tree-bark coloured page edges! What I hadn’t realised is that French is Irish; for some reason I had thought she was American, so to discover an Irish crime novel was a pleasant surprise.
It begins with three twelve-year-olds, two boys and a girl playing in the woods during the summer holidays. Only one will come out, the other two are never seen again. The survivor cannot remember anything about what happened. After this brief prologue, we move on twenty years, and are introduced to our narrator Rob…
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 end game of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. […]
This is my job, and you don’t go into it – or, if you do, you don’t last – without some natural affinity for its priorities and demands. What I am telling you, before you being my story, is this – two things: I crave truth. And I lie.
Rob used to be called Adam, but doesn’t use that name any longer. Adam Ryan was the boy who survived in the woods at Knocknaree, an estate a few miles outside Dublin. Rob is a detective in Dublin’s prestigious Murder squad. He is best friends with Cassie Maddox, the only woman on the squad. The two of them work well together, and play hard together. One day a call comes in, and it’s their shout – a body (a new one, not ancient) has been found on an archaeological site outside Dublin. There’s a motorway due to be built, and the archaeologists are on a time time-scale to finish their dig – at Knocknaree. Cassie knows Rob’s secret, but he swears he’s OK and off they go.
This field was where the wood had been, twenty years ago. The strip of trees was what was left of it. I had lived in one of the houses beyond the wall.
The body of a young girl has been found placed on a stone thought to be an ancient altar at the dig. She’s the daughter of a local family who live a few roads away. She’s a talented ballerina who was due to move to London and the Royal Ballet School soon, all the locals contributed to help make it happen. The family are naturally devastated, but there’s something not right – did the father do it? Was it the fanatical archaeologist who wants the dig to continue? Or was it the man in a hoodie seen in the vicinity by the dead girl’s sister? The trails all lead to the woods.
As you might expect, everyone has something to hide, and Rob has more than most! There are parallels with the old case. Rob should declare his conflict of interest but against her better instincts, Cassie lets him persuade her not to drop him in it. As the days turn into weeks and they’re getting nowhere, the pressure will build and build and Rob will suffer. The investigation will suffer, until it is finally blown open.
I will say no more, other than to say that for a debut novel, this is very, very good indeed. It has such shades of light, dark and more dark; the characters, especially Rob and Cassie are all credible and well-drawn; the atmosphere is stifling and the suspense is palpable as the investigation nears its conclusion and Rob is forced to confront what happened before.
I’m a convert. What ‘Elle Thinks’ was right, and I want to read more by Tana French from the casebooks of the Dublin Murder Squad. (10/10)
Source: Own copy from the TBR
Tana French, In the Woods (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007). Hodder paperback 608 pages.
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