Author: Tana French
ISBN: 9780143113492/ Penguin Books, 2008
Genre: Mystery, Police Procedural
First Line: What I want you to remember is that I'm a detective.
Twelve-year-old Katy Devlin's body has been discovered on the site of an archaeological dig. Murder Squad detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox get their first big case, and both are determined to solve it. Cassie Maddox is the only person who knows that in 1984, her partner was involved in another high profile case in the same location. Twenty years ago Ryan went with his friends into the woods in Knocknaree, Ireland, and Ryan was the only one who came out. Investigating a case in the same area makes Ryan want to solve his own as well, since he remembers nothing of what happened to his friends or himself.
I was immediately hooked in the prologue by French's writing:
This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants.... This summer will never end.
The two separate cases drew me in, too. I wanted to know who killed Katy Devlin, and I wanted to know what happened to Ryan and his friends in the woods. Ryan and Maddox both interested me, and I settled in for a long, enjoyable read. (Do you feel a "but" coming?) But...somewhere along the two-thirds mark, it all began to fall seriously apart.
What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this-- two things: I crave truth. And I lie.
So Ryan warns us at the beginning. Am I bothered when fictional characters lie to me? No. Living, breathing humans lie, so fictional characters should too once in a while. However (first cousin to "but"), the more I read the more I became annoyed with Ryan. Packed off to boarding school after his friends disappeared, Ryan made up stories about his friends and his life. Children do this. He was in shock, in mourning for his friends, and he didn't want to be a misfit in his new surroundings. As Ryan aged, it became a matter of stupidity and laziness over duplicity for me. After boarding school, he spent two years in a squalid bedsit, living on the dole and doing nothing but watching the sun strike the prism hanging in the window and reading books. I love reading more than most, but those two years would have driven me up a wall. Time and again, Ryan makes stupid choices that endanger not only his career but his relationships with co-workers and friends. A lack of common sense once or twice is human. Lacking common sense on a regular basis makes me want to get a handful of a character's neck and shake him a few times.
Time to get past Ryan here. The identity of Katy Devlin's killer was no mystery whatsoever to me, and the way that the solution to the disappearance of Ryan's childhood friends was never given annoyed me. I don't need all the loose ends in a book to be tied up by the time the last page is read, but the way the solution was avoided in In the Woods gave me the feeling that it was a cliffhanger plot device, wanting to ensure that everyone read the next book. Some things in life are never meant to be known, to be explained. I feel that the disappearance of Ryan's friends is one of those things and shouldn't be held in front of me like a carrot.
Although I loved French's use of language, when I think of how irritating her main character was and of the way the cold case was left dangling, I have to admit that I'm in no hurry to read the author's next book-- even though I know The Likeness focuses on Maddox and not Ryan.