After years of book talking In the Woods to patrons, I finally got around to listening to it myself. Thank goodness. I loved it.
Good timing too, because French's newest suspense book, Faithful Place is on the top of most people's "Best of 2010" lists. Since there is a hold list of Faithful Place, I can now talk with authority about French's style. For the record, her books are not a series, although they are loosely linked. You can read them in any order.
In the Woods can best be described as: police procedural meets psychological suspense. This is a dark book, with an extremely flawed narrator. Bad things are happening here and even when the crime is "solved," no one is satisfied; in fact, just about everyone involved with the case has been ruined as a result of the investigation. And the kicker is, you know that it will not end well from the start, but you are so compelled by the complex plot, the interesting, 3-dimensional characters and their interactions that you cannot look away. I found myself cleaning out a closet, just so I could have 1 hour to myself to listen to this novel. I was completely absorbed by the story, the atmosphere, and the characters. Even when not much was happening, I needed to keep listening. It was a bit scary, like an addiction.
Here is part of the Booklist starred review which give plot and appeal:
Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, land the first big murder case of their police careers: a 12-year-old girl has been murdered in the woods adjacent to a Dublin suburb. Twenty years before, two children disappeared in the same woods, and Ryan was found clinging to a tree trunk, his sneakers filled with blood, unable to tell police anything about what happened to his friends. Ryan, although scarred by his experience, employs all his skills in the search for the killer and in hopes that the investigation will also reveal what happened to his childhood friends. In the Woods is a superior novel about cops, murder, memory, relationships, and modern Ireland. The characters of Ryan and Maddox, as well as a handful of others, are vividly developed in this intelligent and beautifully written first novel, and author French relentlessly builds the psychological pressure on Ryan as the investigation lurches onward under the glare of the tabloid media. Equally striking is the picture of contemporary Ireland, booming economically and fixated on the shabbiest aspects of American popular culture. An outstanding debut.As this review says, the building psychological pressure was spectacular. Rob Ryan is a troubled man who has never come to terms with the tragedy in his own life. And a word of warning here, those looking for him to rise above, finally confront his past, and get the answers he has been searching for, should not read this novel. This book does not tie up loose ends. It is all about the mood and the characters here. And although I had sort of figured out who the ultimate "bad guy" was, even I was shocked and surprised by how it all turned out. The villain here is bad; very evil, very twisted, and very conniving. I was left with chills.
This is a disturbing and dark book, but it is also compelling, with a pace that broods at first, then steadily builds. I also happen to enjoy Irish settings, and this one is authentic, written by a life-ling resident. I also enjoyed the complexity of the female characters, especially Cassie and Rosalind. This is a haunting story (without a single ghost though) which will stay with you long after you turn the last page
And like all good psychological suspense, the main conflict is resolved, but the overall ending is open. I would actually call it more dangling.
Three Words That Describe This Book: haunting, psychological suspense, disturbing
Readalikes: Tana French's dark atmosphere, characters, and complex plots would appeal to fans of Nordic Noir. Specifically, I would suggest Stieg Larsson, Asa Larsson, Henning Mankell, Per Petterson, and Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
French also reminds me of some of my favorite psychological suspense titles and authors. Specifically, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, anything by Peter Abrahams, and specifically, the stories of Ripley by Patricia Highsmith would resonant here.