In The Woods – Tana French

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Five words from the blurb: detective, body, woods, family, secrets

Tana French is an author who has been raved about so much that I have forgotten where I first heard about her. I am often disappointed by thrillers and so was nervous about approaching this book, but I shouldn’t have worried – In the Woods is just as good as everyone says it is.

The book is set in Ireland and follows Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie, as they investigate the murder of a little girl. The case brings back difficult memories for Rob, as two of his childhood friends disappeared in the same wood twenty years earlier. The pair try to establish if the cases are linked, whilst trying to hide Rob’s connection to the previous investigation.

There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.

The book was gripping all the way through and there were plenty of twists and turns to entertain me. The pacing was perfect – keeping me hooked on every word at the beginning and then speeding up towards the end.

The writing was simple, but effective and I was especially impressed with the character development – all were well formed and I connected with them on an emotional level quite quickly.

There were a few moments when I had to suspend my disbelief as police procedure was abandoned for the benefit of a more thrilling plot. HIGHLIGHT TO READ SPOILER (for example the fact no-one searched the archaeological site or the tool sheds at an early stage in the investigation), but I was willing to overlook these minor problems as they did make the story more entertaining.

I loved the ending. It tied up many of the questions raised by the book, but left some things unanswered so that the sequel is now calling to me very loudly.

There isn’t anything profound or informative in this book, but as a piece of pure entertainment it is almost flawless. Recommended.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

The wonderful thing about this novel is that while it’s ostensibly a mystery, it’s really a character-driven story dressed up in a mystery’s clothing. Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Tana French is a goddess. Not just any goddess, but the Goddess of Mystery. You’ve Gotta Read This!

French’s writing is extremely evocative and effective at ratcheting up the suspense. Steph & Tony Investigate!


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34 Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    *letting out a huge sigh* Oh thank goodness! You know I have some serious love for French. Her characterization is crazy good, the chemistry between Rob and Cassie was tangible. Many people did not like the way the ending was left hanging open, but I admired the author for her restraint. I hope now you will go on and read the rest of French’s novels (just don’t expect answers to your questions on this one!). FYI the audios of the next two are fabulous.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I agree. I don’t think I’ve ever read a thriller with such a strong, realistic relationship between partners before – it really added to the emotion in the last few chapters.

      Thanks for letting me know that the audios are fantastic. I’m not sure how it would work transferring from text to audio half way through a series – I’m worried that it might ruin the voices I have invented in my head. Perhaps I’ll just see which one I spot at the library first!

  2. Sakura says:

    I was getting a little bored of mysteries and stopped reading them for a while when I encountered this book and bam, I was hooked again. I’ve read her second book which I also really enjoyed and am looking forward to reading her third. I thought it was surprisingly well written for a first novel. Hope you enjoy her other novels:)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, Let me know if you find any other books that suck you into mysteries – I have been disappointed with so many that I rarely try them now. I have heard that Tana French’s other books are even better, so I look forward to giving them a try.

  3. Amy says:

    I have this book in my pile to read but have hesitated because so often I’m disappointed by this genre. I’ve read reviews that rave about Tana French and after Sandy loved this book I knew it would be good. I’m happy to read how much you enjoyed it, too since I trust your taste in books and know you have good standards. Your review covered several issues that are important to me, too…characters, the author’s writing style and a good ending!

    I’m going to try to get to this book soon. Thank you for an enjoyable review, Jackie!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I think the ending is up for dispute as lots of people hate it. It really depends on whether you like having everything tied up. I liked the fact that not everything is resolved – it means the story can live on in my head. I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up.

  4. Carrie K. says:

    I just read the third of French’s books – and I’ve enjoyed them all! Although I was bugged by the unanswered questions at the end of In the Woods, especially when I discovered that The Likeness went in a different direction. But then I read – and LOVED – The Likness, and I got over it. Faithful Place, the third book, is my favorite – and I wish she would write faster!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Thank you for warning me that The Likeness goes in a different direction. I don’t mind that – perhaps she will go back there later in the series? Sometimes it is good to be so behind in a series – I can now enjoy them without having to wait for her to write them!

  5. Erin says:

    I keep hearing about how good Tana French’s books are, but I haven’t read them yet, because I don’t usually enjoy thrillers! Maybe someday I’ll give them a shot again, starting with In the Woods :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Erin, I have had trouble with a lot of thrillers in the past. I think Tana French’s books work because they focus on the characters so much. Most of the thrillers I’ve read have paper thin characters, but the ones in this book are very realistic. I hope you enjoy this one if you decide to give it a try.

  6. I liked this book, but not as much as you. I gave it three stars. That was 4 years ago. My reviews back then were really short, so here it is :-)

    “Reasonably interesting detective story. There were too many technical police- and law-details for me. The basic story and how the detectives discovered who-did-it was captivating to read. I found it disappointing that we don’t find out what happened to detective Rob Ryan in his past. At least, if there was a hint, it was not strong enough for me.”

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Sorry you didn’t enjoy it. I actually thought there were very few technical details in this one, but I’m probably comparing it to the Dragon Tattoo, which had way too much detail for me. I liked the ending too. Books often annoy me by tying up all the lose ends. Life isn’t like that and I’m sure the fact it is unresolved will lead to a better story line in subsequent books. Nevermind, we can’t all love the same ones. :-)

  7. Lydia says:

    I have often wondered about Tana French. Perhaps I should start with this one…

    1. Jackie says:

      Lydia, I think that they can be read out of order, but I’m sure it is best if you start with this one if possible. Enjoy :-)

  8. Nikki-ann says:

    I’ve heard good things about Tana French books. Having read your review I may just have to pick this one up. Thanks :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Nikki-ann, My pleasure. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do :-)

  9. Well a big YAY from me since I recently acquired all 3 books in that series. Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, Well done – you are two steps ahead of me :-) I’m sure it won’t be too long before I have the rest of the series on my shelves. Enjoy :-)

  10. kimbofo says:

    I’ve read all three of her books and enjoyed them all. My only quibble is her tendency to over-write (she’s a bit flowery in places) and her male voice isn’t always convincing, but the books have such terrific plots I can forgive those tiny flaws. Plus, I really like the fact her books reflect modern Ireland in ways that other literary fiction from Ireland is not doing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kim, I didn’t spot the problems with the male voice, but that is probably because the plot was so good I didn’t notice. It is good to know that you’ve enjoyed all of her books. I’m sure I will too :-)

  11. I wasn’t blown away by this (so much so that I haven’t sought out any of her other books); I enjoyed it well enough but thought it was over-written and hyperbolic in places and requiring of some serious editing.
    Saying that, it’s not my kind of genre to begin with.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I agree that the writing wasn’t perfect, but the plot was so gripping that I barely noticed. I love mysteries when they have good characters and I could feel the tensions between Rob and Cassie -I thought they were very well written.

  12. Ooh, I like the sound of this book. I don’t really have oodles of time at the moment, so I’m reading a lot more quick-paced books, as opposed to “literary books” (obviously, there are some books which fit both bills, but…).

    Actually, do you know of any books on the CIA covert ops (or well, any kind of covert ops really: MI5, Mossad etc)? Into that kind-of thing at the moment…

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I’m afraid I haven’t really read any covert ops books. I love watching 24 on TV, but don’t think I’ve actually read anything like that. Let me know if you find a good one as I would like to give something like that a try one day.

  13. Jenners says:

    So glad you were a fan! But don’t look for resolution to the messy ending in the next book…it goes on to a completely new story but it is just as good. I just adore Tana French. Hard to believe this was her debut.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Thanks for the warning. It is amazing that this was her debut as I can’t imagine them getting better with each book – so exciting :-)

  14. Steph says:

    Oh yay! I am so glad you like this book, since I feel I’ve been talking it up for ages! I wasn’t sure how you would feel about the lose ends, as I know some people were really bothered by the fact that not everything is tied up in a neat bow, but I think there was something powerful about the fact that not everything about Rob’s character is explained.

    The next book, The Likeness, is actually my favorite that French has written thus far, but I will warn you that it doesn’t really have much to do with this book at all. It makes passing reference to some of the events, but the next book is very much Cassie’s story, so we will still have to see if Rob reemerges one day…

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I don’t really mind that it is Cassie’s story. If it is gripping and clever that is all that matters. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

  15. Alex says:

    Character development in a triller is always something to celebrate. Thanks for the tip, I’ll add it to me wishlist. Do you think it will work well in audio format?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, Sandy from You’ve Gotta Read This! (see link in the quotes at the end of the post) says that these are fantastic on audio. Enjoy :-)

  16. My brother got this one for me for Christmas, and I need to make time to read it. I enjoy mysteries quite a bit, so if you liked this one, I’m likely to love it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, What a lovely brother you have! My sister never buys books for me as she thinks I already have too many :-( !!

  17. Heidi says:

    I really liked In the Woods as well. The Likeness I did not like as much since the basis was a bit too much suspesion of reality for me that it was always in the back of my mind. However it is still good, well written and worth reading. However I loved Faithful Place and in particular this one is great on audio (Irish accents done well). So far she has been taking a minor character from each and than making that the next main protagonist so you get this added dimension. Now I kinda always wonder who will be in the next book since not all the characters reappear!

  18. Joanna says:

    I loved this book, everything except for the ending. I wanted more answers and I didn’t want to wait!! :-) I have her next book on my shelf and am looking forward to it, many people liked that one even better!

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