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As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

429 pages, Hardcover

First published May 17, 2007

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About the author

Tana French

27 books25k followers
Tana French is the New York Times bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

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5 stars
103,684 (26%)
4 stars
148,630 (38%)
3 stars
94,318 (24%)
2 stars
28,328 (7%)
1 star
11,994 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 26,846 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
107 reviews3 followers
January 7, 2011
If I could, I'd probably rate this at 1.5 stars-- it ultimately pissed me off, and annoyed me throughout, but it was good enough to keep me reading and I suppose that should count for something.

Maybe my opinion has been influenced by reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO immediately prior to this one. That book wasn't perfect, but it had characters you rooted for, didn't wallow too much in pop culture references, and most importantly IT SOLVED THE FRIGGING MYSTERY.

Let's go through a few of these points. First, I don't think I've ever read a mystery novel with a less likable main character/narrator. Rob (Adam) Ryan is an asshole, plain and simple. Sure, he's been warped by his childhood and circumstances, but he does just about every annoying thing you could possibly imagine-- he constantly navel-gazes and feels self pity, he sleeps with then immediately plays the stereotypical male "I don't want anything to do with you now" role with his female partner (the person we were told was his best friend, and whom he would never ever sleep with), he acts like an idiot over the 17 year old villain/ temptress/ psychopath/ whatever betraying his partner, and by the end of the book he is worse off than ever. I know that lots of detectives (esp. in hard-boild stories) are unlikable, and have many personal issues, but this guy just took the cake. I wanted to take a baseball bat to his head. To make matters worse, French throws in this little gem towards the end of the novel:

"I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light. I am aware that, within an impressively short time of meeting me, Rosalind had me coming to heel like a well-trained dog: running up and down stairs to bring her coffee, nodding along while she bitched about my partner, imagining like some starstruck teenager that she was a kindred soul. But before you decide to despise me too thoroughly, consider this: she fooled you, too. You had as good a chance as I did. I told you everything I saw, as I saw it at the time. And if that was in itself deceptive, remember, I told you that, too: I warned you, right from the beginning, that I lie."

As if that excused anything... and NO, she didn't "fool" me, because YOU'RE the narrator and YOU'RE the one telling the story. This paragraph probably ticked me off more than anything else in the book.

Second, the book seriously dates itself with little pop culture references... from Simpsons quotes to mentions of Ricky Martin and The Simple Life. Gah. The beginning of the book felt like a very special episode of FRIENDS where Chandler, Monica and Ross solve a mystery. I'm a pretty big pop culture type of guy, but the references dropped in this novel just annoyed me.

The last part is a bit more controversial I suppose. There are two central mysteries in this book-- the first, what happened to Katy, DOES get solved in the course of the novel (the "big break" in the case is our hero realizing suddenly that the murder probably took place in a shed about 20 feet from where the body was found! Really?? No one bothered to think of that for a month?), but the deeper mystery about what happened to Rob/Adam and his friends is never resolved. Your mileage may vary about how annoying that is. Truth be told, it didn't annoy me as much as the fact that the true "villain" of the modern mystery walks without being punished in any way. How incredibly unsatisfying.

I know this was a first novel, so hopefully things will improve for her second book. I know, also, that this book won a major award and that lots of people seem to love it to death, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.


Since this review seems to be read by quite a few people, I thought I'd include in the review a bit of further rumination that I had in the comments section below.


In a bit of serendipity, I just finished reading Graham Moore's THE SHERLOCKIAN this past weekend. In the book, there's a quote from the narrator (supposedly based on some thoughts from Arthur Conan Doyle) talking about how a mystery must have a conclusion lest the audience be left unhappy and upset:

"Can you write a mystery story that ends with uncertainty? Where you never know who really did it? You can, but it’s unsatisfying. It’s unpleasant for the reader . There needs to be something at the end, some sort of resolution. It’s not that the killer even needs to be caught or locked up. It’s that the reader needs to know. Not knowing is the worst outcome for any mystery story, because we need to believe that everything in the world is knowable. Justice is optional, but answers, at least, are mandatory. And that’s what I love about Holmes. That the answers are so elegant and the world he lives in so ordered and rational. It’s beautiful.”

I'll take Holmes over Ryan any day of the week.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
May 17, 2015
Though the isbn is the same as the one pictured, my edition of this book has a much creepier cover and tagline:

Needless to say, I was completely expecting something a bit dark and twisted, a creepy psychological murder mystery with an outcome I never would have seen coming. And I got that. But I never expected this book to leave me feeling so... sad. And you know why? Because I cared. Ms French carefully builds up a complex personality for each of her characters, complete with a past, a sense of humour and some serious issues to go with it all, and you can't help but care what happens to the detectives even more than you care what happens with the case.

Having now read all her other works, I can confirm she isn't just a one trick pony. I also feel more forgiving of this book's ending, which I know bothered many other readers. In hindsight, frustrating as it is, I find it oddly perfect.

In The Woods is a deeply psychological read that explores the nature of psychopaths and memory - or lack of. The story is narrated by Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin murder squad, who is sent back to his home town in hopes of unravelling the case of a local child murder. A young girl found dead in the very same woods in which Detective Ryan played as a child. But Rob Ryan has a secret. Years ago two of his friends disappeared whilst playing in those woods and whilst he was with them and a witness to whatever happened, he retains no memory of the events. His friends were never found. The question is: will this new case bring back old memories? Is there some piece of evidence that's waited twenty years to be found in those woods?

A case like the one Rob and his partner - Cassie - face would leave a very personal mark on anybody, you cannot investigate the murder and sexual assault of a child and keep it just business as usual. As the investigation progresses and leads the pair in a number of directions only to meet with dead end after dead end, it begins to take its toll on the two detectives, they come out of it very different people from those we knew at the beginning. It seemed a very realistic and rather sad progression.

I'm not saying that every wordy paragraph in this beautifully-written novel was needed, but I personally didn't want them to be taken out. I think the main reason I enjoyed this novel so much was because it is about far more than a murder mystery; it's about all the people involved and how they are affected. And I was honestly on the verge of tears after reading the ending and then reading friends' reviews of the second book in this series and discovering that we never get to hear more from Rob.

There's a touch of love in this book, just a touch, not enough to be called romance. No descriptive sex. No sweet-nothings. Nothing like that. And yet, it still fucking broke my heart.

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January 26, 2016
Some wounds will never heal, and there will forever be a Rob Ryan-shaped scar in my heart.

Some books are written deliberately to provoke sadness. It's fucking easy to induce someone to tears when the book is about a dying cancer patient with a labrador retriever whose leg has been amputated, with one ear missing. The most effectively emotional books are the ones where you least expect it. The ones that sneak up on you.

There are differing degrees of sadness, the type that makes one curl into a ball, sobbing in the wee hours of the morning. I still can't pass by a bookshelf containing the book Forbidden without recalling that memory. Then there are books such as these. It doesn't make a person shudder in pain as much as it leaves one with an overwhelming sense of sadness and a feeling of unfulfillment. Of loss.

When I picked up this book, so many years ago, I never knew I was setting myself up for heartbreak. Ask anyone who's read this book. Their reply will range anywhere from MY FEELS to WHY DOES TANA FRENCH DO THIS TO US?!

The damnedest thing is, this book wasn't even MEANT to be sad. It just sneaks up on you. It makes you fall in love with the main character. It makes you sympathize with him. Rob Ryan is not a bad boy. He's a lost one. He is the kind that brings out what little remnants of maternal feelings there exists inside me. He is wounded, without being a new adult asshole. Don't get me wrong, he is sometimes an asshole...while not intending to be.

He is a little boy, who behaves carelessly without intent to harm. He is imperfect, he runs the other way when the going gets tough. He is scared to face the past, he can't think about the future. All he can do is live in the present, wholly devoting himself to his work because it's the only way he can avoid his shadows.

He would make a terrible husband. He would make a horrendous boyfriend. He will break your heart, and I don't even care.

I just want to love him. I just want to take care of him. I want to erase his hurt. I want to obliterate his pain.

Rarely has there been a character who has broken my heart so badly.

This is a detective novel, but it's not really. Don't get me wrong, there is an ample amount of investigation in the book. It can hold it's own against any fucking detective novel out there. It just doesn't feel that way because to me, this book is more poetry. I have rarely encountered better writing. I have scarcely encountered more evocative passages. The other books in this series does a better job of investigation, but I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, the series begins, and ends---the universe revolves around this book.

Do yourself a favor. Lose yourself...

...in the woods.
Profile Image for Justin.
285 reviews2,305 followers
March 5, 2017
Seriously, man, I wanted to rate this book higher than two stars. I almost went with three, but I just can't do it. This book felt like it ran this long, exhausting marathon only to collapse into a heap, huffing and puffing just before it crossed the three-star line. Right now it's laying there lifelessly. It might get up slowly and crawl across that line later, but I doubt it.

The protagonist of this book really, really annoyed me. It felt like a parody of one of those old black-and-white movies where the picture freezes and the guy steps out toward the camera, lights a cigarette, pulls his hat down, and goes into this long monologue about life or women or his past or whatever. The action would pick up or a new lead would be uncovered, and here comes Rob rambling on for pages and pages.... and pages.


Cassie: Oh wow! This thing we just found could connect this murder to events from your past! WHOA!

Rob: That is amazing! Great job, Cass!

::Rob steps toward the camera::

Rob: Yeah, Cassie was like that. She was always finding connections to things and blah blah blah. She made a great partner because hey remember that time 20 years ago when my friends and I were in the woods and blah blah blah I want to tell you about all the people I work with and give you a brief description of each one of them and also explain in detail how my boss is and blah blah blah. My mind is trying to remember what happened 20 years ago and you know Cassie and I are great partners and we're best friends and people think we're dating but blah blah blah. Hey, time flies, man. Did I tell you what happened to me as a child? Did I remind you about Katy? Also, her family sure is weird. The people at the dig site are weird. Everyone is a suspect blah blah blah. Let me pause here to tell you how I deal with my roommate and also O'Kelly and my childhood and my current job and Katy and her weird family and interrogation and coffee and vodka and this dream I had and looking for clues and in the woods and we keep hitting dead ends and and and and and blahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Cassie: Hey, Rob. We have a suspect.

Rob: ...

Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,097 reviews17.7k followers
June 4, 2022
I.... have no fucking clue how I felt about this book. Because, hey, beginning? Awesome. Ending? Trash heap that ruined the book for me.

Let’s talk.

The first half of this book was - honestly - excellent. You can read a thousand reviews talking about it, so I’ll keep it short. The writing is honestly stunning, much better - in my opinion - than Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins’ styles. I had no clue where the mystery was going. And the lead characters, Rob Ryan and his partner / best friend Cassie Maddox were super compelling - and no romance, bonus point! I especially adored Cassie fucking Maddox; her backstory with a friend from college honestly broke my heart. All the ingredients for a perfect book. Maybe even a five. I like the characters and I like the writing, so I should have liked this book, right?

I am going to try to explain this as spoiler-free [and what spoilers exist are noted] as possible: the ending of this book is maybe one of the most unsatisfying things I have ever read in my whole life. I am not kidding when I say it was such total trash that it ruined the whole book for me.

Not. One. Thing. Is. Resolved. Rob Ryan’s character arc? Flop. My wife Cassie Maddox’s character arc? Long sigh. My favorite pair of besties? I don’t want to talk about it. Mystery? Fine, sort of chilling, but also 1) not really a mindfuck and 2) has shitty connotations. The commupence? Non-ex-is-tent.

And the worst part? The mystery from twenty years ago that causes this entire fucking BOOK and that was way more interesting than the normal mystery? Literally no fucking resolution. Who did it? How did they do it? What is up with that hair clip in the forest and the blood inside Rob’s shoes? NO ONE FUCKING KNOWS. I’m sure this is framed in the minds of many readers as some kind of deeper meaning about memory. You know what I thought, honestly? Tana French wrote herself into a corner with a fucking ridiculous case and then ran out of time on her deadline and decided to leave it open.

How not to write a decent crime book 101.

And…….. so the only actual thing that is wrapped up is the current case, which is the only thing in this entire goddamn book that wraps up and I still don’t like it. It’s tagged. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And also, there is so much weird misogyny. I’m chalking this up to “this was written in 2006” but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care. Rosalind is the epitome of an I’m Not Other Girls character to the point where she actually says that line. And Cassie’s ending… is so shitty. Again, MAJOR SPOILER: Because what’s the point of a female character if they’re not contributing to the manpain?

The two stars rather than one is a reflection of me loving the beginning. The ending of this book can go die in a hole. That is all I have to say.

Dublin Murder Squad: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 [TK] | 6

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Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
August 7, 2023
"What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this - two things: I crave truth. And I lie."

This book is brilliantly cruel - a story of deep and painfully real psychological f*ckery masquerading as a murder mystery. There's nothing "feel good" about it. If you like a book to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy at the end, it's not for you. If you like neat resolutions - it's not for you (and if you already read this book, you know exactly what I'm talking about). If you hate being left with a new question for each question that this story answered - well, yet again, it's not a book for you.

But I loved it. I loved every page of it, every wordy paragraph, every depressing turn of the story, every soul-shattering instance, every painfully real mistake of the protagonist. I chose reading this book over sleep - a decision I almost came to regret later, having to work a 14-hour day on 3 hours of sleep ("Hi, it's Dr. (yawn) Nataliya returning a (yawn) page (yawn)... Scalpel (yawn) please!)- but hey, we all make decisions we wish we could take back (hey, just like Rob Ryan in this book!). And it ultimately was fully worth it.
"I suppose you can say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern."

Rob Ryan is a detective in the (imaginary) Dublin Murder Squad, assigned to investigate a senseless murder case of a 12-year-old ballet dancer Katy in a little town of Knocknaree. What his supervisors don't know is that 20 years ago he was among the three children who went to play in the woods near Knocknaree, and was the only one to come back under unbelievably strange circumstances, wearing shoes full of blood, and with no memory of what happened to his best friends who forever disappeared in the woods. The investigation forces Rob to revisit the place that has such painful associations for him, and slowly, day by day, rips his heart to shreds and destroys him a little bit at a time. And it's not the murder story (stories?) but Rob's despair, mistakes, pain, and downward spiral and self-destruction that makes this book so painfully real and fascinating to read. It is a reminder that our worst monsters ultimately do live within ourselves, and that we are our own worst enemies even without ever meaning to be.
"And then, too, I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn't find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself."
The heart of this book is the story of a friendship between Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox . Rob and Cassie start off enjoying that incredible, intense and yet easy, all-forgiving and natural closeness of a friendship I think every person in the world (non-sociopathic, to be exact) longs for. It's a friendship too beautiful to not be doomed. It is a friendship that many people do not have a privilege to enjoy after they have grown out of their childhood. It's a friendship that brings nostalgic longing from the very first pages on which it is described. And it is, without a doubt, my favorite part of this book.
"But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you crackling to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other's hands."
This book takes us onto a journey to the sadness and bleakness and hopelessness. The mystery of what happened twenty years ago to Rob, the psychological fallout he still suffers from decades later, the senselessness of the new murder, , the burden of crushing loneliness, the habitual cruelty of the world, the casual mentions of the depressing parts of the society like the persistent corruption. None of this is a feel-good reading. None of this has a resolution that the readers hope for (or any resolution at all for some of the above!). It is painful and yet touching and beautiful, and so unbelievably close to perfect - at least it was for me.
"For a moment, I felt as if the universe had turned upside down and we were falling softly into an enormous black bowl of stars, and I knew, beyond any doubt, that everything was going to be alright."
I loved this book to pieces, even though I could not shake off the overwhelming feeling of sadness and hollowness after finishing it. I loved it despite (or maybe because?) of the frustrating incompleteness of some plot lines, the frequent lack of resolution, and the unfulfillment of my wishes for the characters and events. I know I will read it again in the future, curious to know how my reading experience will be changed once I know what's coming. In the meantime, I highly recommend it. 5 stars with no hesitation.
"There was a time when I believed 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."
Catie's wonderful review that made me pick up this book is here.

My review of the sequel, The Likeness, is here.
The third book in the series, Faithful Place, is reviewed here.
The fourth book in the series, Broken Harbour, is here.
My review of the fifth book, The Secret Place, is here.
My review (4 years late) of the sixth, The Trespasser, is here.

Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 260 books409k followers
January 20, 2020
Wow, Tana French can write. I appreciate a well-constructed mystery, and this is certainly one, but it is also one of those genre-transcending books that proves that the whole idea of genre fiction is an artificial construct. My ‘Rick Riordan Presents’ imprint buddies J.C. Cervantes, Rebecca Roanhorse and Rosh Chokshi all recommended this book, and as usual they did not steer me wrong. I was warned that I would want to throw the book across the room when I finished, so I was prepared for anger issues. I was imagining all sorts of twists and turns the novel could take, so actually when the end came, it wasn’t quite as twisted and horrible as I feared, but it certainly was a beautiful, unsettling read.

Our protagonist Rob Ryan is possibly an unreliable narrator. We can’t be sure. When he was a child, he was the sole survivor of a group of children who went missing in the woods near an Irish housing estate. Days later, Rob was found shivering, his shirt cut to pieces, his shoes full of blood and his fingernails clawing into the bark of a tree. The other children were never seen again and are presumed dead. Rob remembers nothing about the experience before being found, but he somehow survived the trauma and grew up to become a detective in the Dublin Murder Squad. He goes by Rob, rather than his childhood name of Adam, so no one will make the connection between the traumatized child and the adult he is today.

Then he and his partner Cassie Maddox get a new case — the brutal murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods where Rob disappeared as a boy. Could the cases be connected? Should Rob come clean to his superiors about his own past? Against Cassie’s instincts, she and Rob continue delving into the case, which quickly becomes personal and perilous for them both. Their partnership will be tested like never before. The suspects in the case are not what they appear. Secrets are folded within other secrets. The novel is dark and wonderful, but will leave you feeling unsettled, looking over your shoulder. If you like a shivery good read with lovely language and deep shadows cast across your soul, this is your jam. I’ve also read French’s second Murder Squad novel, The Likeness, which is just as good.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,626 followers
January 22, 2020
This book is amazing... really truly excellent. I took a risk at the UTEP library last week, just picking this out at random... & what true serendipity it was! This particular week was rife with parties & late nights (daytime reserved for sleep) and all throughout "In the Woods" was a faithful companion... it was a pleasure to get back into it, for it's a dense & meticulous, brilliant piece of literature. It kicks "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"'s ass... people, read this instead!

You feel so much for the trio of detectives trying to uncover the murder of a teenage girl atop a medieval altar in the woods. The backdrop is Ireland of modern day, & not since 2003's "Veronica Guerin" or more recently the romantic comedy "Leap Year" have I wanted to visit the Emerald Isle so much. Tana French establishes the whodunnit with elegant prose not fit for a bestseller (it is written more a-la Haute Literature than Global Bestseller a-la-mediocre) and the twists & turns are calibrated to hit the protagonist's psyche in clear-cut precision: he too was a victim in the same woods years earlier. Alcoholism and despair follow our lad about, and although it spreads itself way too much in the end, it is the best psychological thriller, I believe, since Robert Harris' "The Silence of the Lambs."

PS When will I read its sequel? After 8 years it can't come soon enough...
72 reviews10 followers
July 28, 2008
This was an Edgar Award finalist, and that means a mystery, right? Well, we get a tease at the beginning--little boy survives some sort of mysterious mischief in the local woods, the two friends with him are never seen again, and when he's found his shoes are filled with blood and he's unable to speak or recall anything. Cool, huh? I would go along for a ride that works out that story (how'd the blood get IN his shoes, not just on them, etc.), even if I have to sit through another peripheral murder that takes place in the same location many years later, when said boy has become a--wait for it--police detective. Well, I got all involved in the story, even looked forward to finishing it by reading straight into the wee hours one night, and I could not believe the ending: we never find out what happened in the woods all those years ago, and we couldn't care less about the new murder that Bloody Shoes has solved now that he's all grown up. I call that a cheap trick, and I'm not even going to pick up French's second book with this character (if she writes one) to find out if she's beginning a series and wants to stretch out the story--I felt cheated, and I'm done. (Although if there is a second book, and any of you read it, you could maybe let me know what's up. . .)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,823 reviews12.9k followers
April 27, 2019
After much waiting and some significant peer pressure, I have finally decided to take the plunge into the world of Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad. In the summer of 1984, three children went missing in the woods on the outskirts of Dublin. When authorities arrived, they found one boy, Adam 'Rob' Ryan, delirious and unsure what had happened to him. The other two were presumed dead, their bodies never found. Flashing forward two decades, Ryan has recreated himself, using his middle name, and finds himself working as a Homicide detective in Dublin. Partnered with his best friend, Cassie Maddox, they are used to the most gruesome of scenes. When Ryan and Maddox are called to an archeological dig site, they discover the body of twelve year-old Katy Devlin, buried under a ceremonial headstone. This sparks many disturbing memories for Ryan, as it is the exact location of his childhood trauma. While beginning to amass clues in the Devilin murder, Ryan is forced to revisit his past, told in a number of developing flashbacks. He tries to make sense what happened to his two best friends as he remembers the news they shared leading up to that summer afternoon. The deeper Ryan and Maddox dig into the possible motives for the crime, the more suspects they unearth who might harbour the necessary grudge to kill young Katy. Could the murder investigation hold the key to solving the crime from that long ago summer night? Ryan struggles to come to terms with this while also balancing the burden of having no means of helping the two people he loved the most. Simultaneously, his personal interactions with Maddox open paths of confusion and animosity that may be irreparable. French makes her debut in stunning fashion, sure to impress all those who enjoy a police procedural of the highest order.

While I have heard much of Tana French in the last few months, I had been inundated with new series in my 2016 reading journey that I was not sure I ought to add another collection to my list. However, the series held a few unique aspects, one of which was its setting in Ireland, a place I hold close to my heart. After allowing myself to try at least one novel, I discovered that French tells a story that proves as gripping as some of the great European series I have discovered in the past couple of years. The Rob Ryan character is both gripping and baffling, which caught my attention from the start. His work on the Homicide Squad and the struggles tied to his youth proved to be a thread throughout the story and remained relevant until the final pages. While French takes her time in the story's progression, the drawn out development is done in such an effective way that the reader forgets the pace at which the story matures. The plot is both straightforward and convoluted, as the reader encounters twists and dead ends as they relate to motives for the crime. Strains between the characters help bridge portions of the investigation narrative, but might surge into being central plot lines for subsequent novels. French takes on a great deal in her debut piece but comes out of the experience firmly rooting herself in the genre by providing a unique flavour. I am eager to lose myself in her subsequent novels, which I hope are just as riveting.

Kudos, Madam French for blowing my mind and creating an instant fan out of me. I cannot wait to rush into the second novel, hoping that Ryan and the rest of the gang prove equally as compelling.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 21, 2018
it must be really hard to write convincing mystery novels. you can't have your killer be too obvious or no one will bother reading past the third chapter. but you can't have them be too unexpected, without textual support, or you will be accused of cheating. the super-saturation of police procedurals in all their manifestations: literary and film and teevee, sets the genre up for failure - it just adds up to a steaming bowl of repetition and a dessicated medium. there are about five ways a murder plot can resolve itself, and the rest is wallpaper and window dressing.

and then there is this. and for the most part, it falls into the same traps - the main-plot resolution is facile and a little yawn-y, but tana french has massive balls for her treatment of the subplot. she evidently does not care about infuriating her readers. i am reading the second novel now, just out of anger - technically it is for class, but it's above and beyond the demands of the syllabus. i have never read a book out of rage at the author before. can i get a plaque??

and i refuse to say why and how and when this book began to push my wrath-buttons, but push them it did, and those of you who have read this will understand me when i howl, (and maybe one of you can tell me why i am still watching lost when it started failing me like three seasons ago - but this is the diseased impulse we are working with here - i will see this second tana french book through, even though it is not doing for me what i had hoped the first one would do for me. is this coded enough?? good.)

i asked the near-mythical tom fuller about his take on this book, and he said "i liked it until i didn't". which sounds forrest gumpy, but is spot-on the way i felt about it. it has its good points: the irish setting is well-rendered, there are some great descriptions of people, places, and things, the two detectives have a wonderful rapport... until they don't . (see how flexible that kind of assessment is??) it's not all "wee bairns" and Lebor Gabála Érenn, but syntactically it is delightfully irish, and that part of it is a pleasure to read.

dunno - this isn't the worst, i just figured that genre fiction had to play by certain rules in order to be invited into the clubhouse. tana french is a subversive lass, aye, to be sure.

go ahead, read it, and come howl with me.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for carol..
1,576 reviews8,241 followers
January 21, 2021
I started this series out of chronological order, which only increased my appreciation for French. By some odd chance, I happened upon a new copy of her second book, The Likeness, in the library just waiting to be checked out, while In the Woods had a wait list of at least 100 people. I followed with Faithful Place, immersed myself in Ireland of forty years ago and promptly forgot to get on the waiting list for Woods. Nataliya's lovely review reminded me what I was missing (here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...)

For a first book, Woods is impressive, not only because French takes risks with her narrative. It's a psychological mystery, an exploration of friendship and a slow disintegration of personality. I loved it, even as I dreaded the direction of the story. In brief, Rob Ryan is a detective on Dublin's Murder Squad. One day, the squad gets its first woman detective, Cassie Maddox. The two have an instant attraction and immediately begin a deep friendship. They happen to catch a case in which a 12 year-old girl is found murdered at an archeological dig, right where a highway exchange is supposed to be built (shades of Arthur Dent that I half-heartedly tried to ignore). Perhaps completely coincidentally, it is in the same small suburb that Ryan's two childhood friends disappeared when they were twelve. Ryan himself has no memory of the incident, and very few memories of the times after, but the case brings bits flashing back.

What a challenge! Ryan tells us from the start: "What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this--two things: I crave truth. And I lie." Is our narrator unreliable? Or not? The outright acknowledgement that he might not be kept me guessing. At first, I loved his narrative voice. Descriptions of himself and his two twelve-year-old friends, 'Jamie,' and Peter, reminded me indelibly of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and the gold-edged memories of summer days and best friends. Ryan captures some of that lost intimacy with Cassie, and it seems almost the first time since then that he has re-connected with another person. His voice had me chuckling with humor and sighing at his cynicism (see my numerous updates while I was getting my car's oil changed). Then oh-so-slowly the voice changed, subtly, distractedly. I won't say too much more except that it was extremely well done

I love French's writing; the vivid descriptions, the integration of memories into narrative and her character development of her primary characters. Perhaps it fell apart a little at the end, and the red herrings weren't developed enough to be seriously considered. It felt a little more hurried after the slow pace of the beginning, but these are minor quibbles.

The finish was stunning, if by 'stunning,' you mean a slap to the face right after someone answers your questions. Although I never deliberately avoid spoilers, for some reason I had not read any reviews before starting Woods that discussed various issues with the ending. Somewhat discombobulated, I went looking around for insight into French's process, and why she choose to do what she did.

Yep, definitely kept me thinking after I closed the pages. But also while I read them. Highly recommended.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
December 4, 2019
Very, very good.

Tana French’s 2007 introduction to her Dublin Murder Squad series eschews “normal” detective prose for a more literary and artistic approach. Hers is not the terse and journalistic objectivism of hard-boiled literature, nor the overly technical and post-modernistic dialect of more recent crime writing. French’s language is rich and erudite, blending the best of many genre’s into a style that is fresh, unique and intoxicating.

Told from a first person perspective of Dublin homicide detective Rob Ryan, French has crafted a multi-layered psychological thriller that is more than simply an investigation into the murder of a 12-year-old girl living in the rural, suburban estate of Knocknaree. Ryan, something of an unrealistic narrator, has deeply buried and scarring issues of his own as he was the lone survivor of an unsolved disappearance involving himself as a young boy and two of his childhood friends in Knocknaree in the mid-eighties. The facts of this cold case are intertwined and lurk tauntingly at the edges of the present inquiry.

French also mixes in several sub-plots into her narrative that combine to produce an atmosphere of tension and heightening disquietude, plunging resolutely towards the end. The culmination of the many loose ends is tied together in French’s talented and sophisticated work. It is this group dynamic, the interactions between Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox and the other members of the squad, as well as the collection of witnesses, that elevates this to a more mature and satisfying novel.

The little girl is found on an archeological site, being quickly mined and researched because of an interstate going in, and this sub-plot allows French to explore Irish culture, both present and ancient. Irish history and pre-history, the archeological dig and multiple Celtic references all combine to evoke a sense of paranormal enigma to this already highly entertaining story.

A great book, I’ll return to visit Ms. French’s writing again.

Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.8k followers
December 14, 2020
this is not an easy book to recommend because its hard to put this kind of story in a box.

yes, there are mystery/thriller aspects but i wouldnt recommend this to casual fans of the mystery/thriller genre because this is much more character driven. the writing is also very meticulous, lengthy, and slow paced - these things are not really conducive for wide-reaching mysteries/thrillers.

but this is an excellent psychological study that is so expertly told. the nuances of the narrative help weave a very intricate tale of truth and lies, fact and opinion, evidence and perception. so if that sounds appealing, then this is the story for you.

4 stars
Profile Image for J.D..
Author 24 books172 followers
February 12, 2017
I will agree that this book is gorgeously written, and the characters are well crafted and sympathetic. That's what kept me reading through the various absurd plot points. An example: the narrator, as a child, is found in the woods, his shoes full of blood, with his two best friends mysteriously missing. He comes back years later as a detective to investigate another murder in the same small estate, and no one recognizes him including the mother of one of those best friends. Oh, PLEASE. And then, after all that, while you do find out who committed the recent murder, the question of what happened to the protagonist and his friends years ago is never resolved. I mean, WTF? the murder of Katy Devlin is a McGuffin--a plot device that motivates the characters or advances the story, but the details of which are of little or no importance otherwise. The real mystery is left hanging in the air.

I put the book down at the end and said out loud, "are you [bad word:] KIDDING ME?"

So, the kindest thing I can say about this book is "enjoy the journey, but realize you're going to roll your eyes in disbelief a lot on the way, and then you're not going to end up anywhere."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
266 reviews282 followers
October 1, 2022
“Human beings, as I know better than most, can get used to anything. Over time, even the unthinkable gradually wears a little niche for itself in your mind and becomes just something that happened.”

When he was twelve years old, Adam Ryan went playing in the woods with his two best friends. He never saw them again. Their bodies were never found, and Adam himself was discovered with his back pressed against an oak tree and his shoes filled with blood. He had no memory of what had happened. 

Twenty years on, Rob Ryan - the child who came back - is a detective in the Dublin police force. He's changed his name. No one knows about his past. Then a little girl's body is found at the site of the old tragedy and Rob is drawn back into the mystery.

This story line twists and turns to keep you interested and the characters are well thought out and interesting. The interaction of these characters is well constructed and believable and modern day issues are weaved into the plot. I enjoyed the descriptions of the area which lightened a sometimes dark plot.

The author’s voice is clear and humanly self destructive but gains the reader’s empathy because it is recognisably us. I really enjoyed this book and found it totally engrossing and beautifully written. I got quite a few ‘scandi noir’ vibes throughout. The story was extremely well plotted. I did feel it dragged a bit about 3/4 of the way through, and would have liked more resolution to the original mystery and slightly less introspection by the main character. But that's just me being trivial.

Overall, this book is a big full read which I enjoyed from start to finish and highly recommend.

Thank you (Dorian) for recommending this Author/book to me. I really enjoyed it 💖
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,540 reviews9,969 followers
April 27, 2018
I didn't damn like it, but I owned it and it's on one of my badge challenges so I read it. Trying to get as much read before chemo in May. Trying to get rid of things or get them on the shelves.

And no, I'm not writing a big review. I'm over that unless it's a re read. Or I will review later. You guys can read some of the popular book bumpers with the great reviews and a million likes. But take some time to read the non book bumpers that have a few likes with amazing reviews. Pisses me off so many get left out.

Tons of friends have loved this book and I'm glad you did, it just wasn't for me. It has to be a major mystery for me to like it. I'm not big on mystery books. I will scroll through and like all of my friends reviews on the book regardless of what you thought. I don't have time to waste going to the home page or profiles to find reviews. So for now it's just liking friends who have reviewed or starred the same books.

So happy Reading and thank you to friends that still support me.

Mel 🖤🐾🐺
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,978 followers
October 6, 2015
This book is tricksy.

Rob Ryan is a veteran homicide detective with the Dublin police along with his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, and the two start working a case involving a young girl found murdered at the site of an archaeological dig. Sounds like it could be the cold open of an episode of CSI: Ireland, right?

Ah, but that’s only part of the story. Rob is actually from the area where the girl is found, and 22 years before he and two friends went to play in the nearby woods and something very bad happened. Rob was found with blood covered shoes and no memory of what happened to the other kids. They were never found, and Rob has done his best to disassociate himself from the event. When they find a piece of evidence that seems like it could link their fresh murder to the disappearance of his friends, Rob and Cassie decide to keep this under wraps so that they can investigate without potentially dragging up Rob’s history while they determine if the two crimes are related.

But that’s only part of it. As the case progresses it sprawls to also involve a hot button issue of a new motorway being built through the archaeological site, potential political corruption and indications of child abuse while Rob and Cassie find themselves under extreme pressure to solve the crime. The added burden of Rob’s secret takes an increasing toll on them as they have to find ways to include his knowledge without admitting how they got it.

I told you it was tricksy…

This is a really nice piece of work and a solid debut novel from Tana French that starts off like a crime thriller with the twist of Rob’s history, but there’s more going on here than that. I particularly liked the way she portrays Rob and Cassie’s close relationship in the early stages of the investigation, and then how it the plot tests it. French also has a nice way of leading a reader down a path that seems somewhat familiar to any fan of crime fiction, but then zigs and zags into different directions. It was a particularly nice touch that with his first person narration that Rob would typically be the most sympathetic character, but French doesn’t hesitate to have him do things that make him downright unlikeable at times. I had three or four occasions where I was seriously hoping that someone would punch him in the balls.

However, there are some pacing problems where things seem a bit repetitive and slow that probably could have been hurried along a bit. I’ve also seen a fair amount of complaining about the ending, but I actually loved it.

I was leaning towards 3 stars when it seemed that things slowed down in the middle, but some of the clever twists and turns at the end got it back to 4 for me.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews9,006 followers
May 14, 2019
It was a so-so mystery . . .

Kind of repetitive . . .

A little drawn out . . .

But at least it was long!
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,683 followers
January 12, 2014
It's been a while since I have read a book that has left me so utterly devastated, a book entailing such a profound emotional investment that having finished it I feel a gaping emptiness within, a sense of loss. It feels like my heart has been simultaneously crushed into pulp under the weight of the tragedies that descend on the lives of a handful of characters and blown to smithereens. And I would never be able to pick up the pieces and glue them back together into a throbbing whole again.

I read In the Woods while on vacation, whenever I took breaks from watching wave after wave crash on to the shore with the familiar rip-roaring intensity of the sea. I read this even when I was too tired to stay up till late, lying on an unfamiliar bed with a sheet of dubious hygiene standards. I read this during prolonged car rides. And every time I had to tear my eyes away from its pages, I felt a pang of irritation.

As I made my way toward the bone-chilling climax of this narrative, awake at an unholy hour, I distinctly remember breaking out in a sweat on a cool December night to boot. Sleep became an alien entity and, come hell or high water, I knew I would not wrench myself away from this fantastic make-believe world of a small town and the sinister occurrences that tied the lives of its residents in the most twisted way possible. I longed to stay trapped in the eerie magic spell cast by the woods, under the ominous shadows of leafy canopies of pine and beech, caught up in a hazy daydream playing hide and seek with Peter, Jamie and Adam. My heart ached for the two children who never returned home from their beloved woods, who were never found again and the way the tragedy of their mystifying disappearance dealt a crushing blow to the life of their traumatized playmate who returned unharmed. It wept for Rob and Cassie and their missed chances.

This book isn't about crime and punishment, it isn't about the science of deduction or smooth-talking, fedora-sporting detectives smartly arriving at inference after inference and nabbing the culprit in style. I almost crave for the standardized simplicity of regular crime thrillers at this moment, the stories which conveniently compartmentalize the crime and the police procedure, the good guys and the bad guys. At least a book like that would not have left me feeling so desolate and bereft of any happy feeling.

But this book took my breath away with its ability to instill so much life in each one of its characters that their distress became my own, with its ornate but never ostentatious prose and the way it deftly narrated a story infused with the dull shades of a sadness so affecting. Tana French foregoes all the spick and span categorizations here, thumbs her nose at the usual pigeon-holing. Instead with consummate skill, she outlines the faint traces of humanity in the most brutal impulses, acknowledges the messed up ways in which this bizarre drama of life plays out and how a neat tying up of all loose ends seldom happens in reality. Sometimes, life is that merciless and cold.

This book is about the labyrinthine pathways of our mind which treacherously conceal our most terrifying memories and how our subconscious prods us to replace the unpleasant truths with self-justifying falsities and even establishes our faith in them. It is about the seemingly innocuous, small cruelties of mundane everyday life that are capable of triggering much bigger disasters that destroy the lives of children and the unforgivable cruelties oblivious, ignorant children are themselves capable of.

I refuse to label this electrifying debut novel mere crime fiction because, in all earnestness, it is not. Rather, it is literature which delves deep into the causality of crime and meticulously brings out the humanity of all the people involved, literature capable of wringing out empathy from even the least sensitive reader. And it is an exploration of the convoluted workings of the human mind, of evil and barbaric urges lurking somewhere in its darkest nooks and crevices. It is a cerebral suspense thriller and, without a doubt, one of the best I have ever read. But it is also a beautiful, bittersweet story about people who carry on with their broken lives shouldering the unbearable burden of past trauma, an unforgettable human drama which left me emotionally drained, agitated to the extreme and yet gasping for more.
Profile Image for Christine.
596 reviews1,179 followers
January 27, 2018
Now this is my kind of book. This is the best book I have read in a very long time! In the Woods has been languishing on my list forever, probably because it has mixed reviews. I am thankful I finally gave it a shot.

Tana French writes beautifully, but in a way that does not hinder the flow of the story. The protagonist, young Irish cop Rob Ryan, tells the story in retrospect. This is done subtly with real-time Rob interjecting only sporadically until the end when he directly delivers the epilogue. I found this technique unique and refreshing. Ms. French pens a stunningly good character study in this novel, presenting her protagonist with profound depth, warts and all. Despite him bringing much of his misery onto himself, my heart couldn’t help but break for him over the last third of the book as he struggled to make sense of what was happening. I haven’t felt that invested in a character in a long while. Though I did not love Rob as much as I love Angela Marsons’ Kim Stone or Cody McFadyen’s Smoky Barrett, my emotions were every bit as wrapped up in him. I know I will never forget Rob Ryan.

Ms. French writes her characters with a great deal of psychological overlay. I looked up her “credentials” and was shocked to find she does not have a background in psychology. Yes, she is that good.

For readers who are interested in a quickly-paced, plot-driven mystery, you won’t find it here. This is a real slow burner, but one that kept me enthralled. The crime plot consists of two threads, one that took place over twenty years previous to the other. Are these events connected? This is a big question. Many readers who did not give the book a good rating had issues relating to a singular loose end in the plot. I usually don’t care for significant loose ends either, but I had no problem with the way this particular story evolved. The ending was true to the character of Rob Ryan; anything else would have been Hollywood. All the other issues were wrapped up beautifully.

I think Tana French writes masterfully. She has quickly risen to “must read everything” prominence on my to-read list. I strongly recommend In the Woods to everyone interested in a hauntingly compelling, character-driven, slow burner of a story. 5 ++++ stars.
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
852 reviews3,883 followers
February 15, 2021
"Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood."

I know that I ought to gather my thoughts to organize them or whatever I usually do before writing a review, especially when the last page let me shell-shocked as In the Woods did. But I can't. I'm leaving tomorrow and I'm not one for writing reviews weeks after having read the damn book. I'm actually in awe of people who manage to do just that. I think that it says something about me : in the end, I'm an emotional reader, and I'll always hold to the bewilderment and wonder I feel when fictional stories get to me in such a strong level.

And I just began too many sentences with I. Ugh. Bear with me, would you?

In the Woods affected me in a way that I didn't expect, slowly enveloping me in its sickeningly sweet lure. Little by little, I've been rocked by a false sense of safety, by the discreet and uncertain laughs, proofs of Rob and Cassie's complicity. Of course I saw the warnings, the insights, yet I chose to ignore the bad taste in my mouth, the inexorable growth of my doubts and then the pang of betrayal and sadness. God, this book let me so fucking sad. Hollowed. There's nothing, really, that I could say to convince you to give it a chance, and many reviewers did it before me and with much more eloquence.

So I'll only say this : rarely did I feel that the character's personality - whether they're likeable or not - was so besides the point as when reading this book. Is Rob a jerk? Maybe, but I don't care, he's real, all of them are real to me. I care so much, og my god, do I care for him still. Did I guess some clues before he did? Yes, actually, I did, but again, it changes nothing to the way I feel right now, to the sheer awe still palpable in me when I'm writing these (clumsy) words.

I am frustrated, does that show? I'm just so sick of writing that, it's not perfect but - god, I'm so fed up with that sentence and I write it way too often. Nothing's perfect. Life is far from perfect (or everybody would look at populists and say, What The Hell, do I look like an idiot to you?!). Tana French pictures the unfairness and imperfection of it all perfectly. It's enough for me. Of course it's enough.

PS. One day later and I'm still dazzled and yeah, so very much sad. It will linger, I just know it.

For more of my reviews, please visit:
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews859 followers
November 6, 2015
I've heard about readers who become so absorbed in a good book that they stay up late to finish them, or talk to the characters, or turn the pages hoping that something bad doesn't happen to them. I rarely if ever have reading experiences that primal; I'm usually analyzing the character development, narrative, even the margins and the design of the book, all from a safe remove, sort of like a naturalist perched in a camouflaged blind, studying.

In the Woods, Tana French's debut novel which launched her "Dublin Murder Squad" series in 2007, knocked me out of my observation post with the locomotive power and cunning of a rhinoceros, or maybe a wild boar. French had me scrambling around the canopy and for 429 pages, never let up. The relentlessness of her novel is not due to cop thriller cliffhangers but the relationship she crafts between her two detectives, as well as their environment.

Chapter 1 begins with a perfect sentence: What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective.

The narrator is Robert Ryan, a competent if aloof young detective with the "Murder Squad." He has a secret only five others know: Rob was born Adam Ryan and on August 14, 1984, while playing in the woods of Knocknaree in County Dublin, disappeared with his friends Peter Savage and Germaine "Jamie" Rowan. Adam was found that night clutching a tree, slashes on the back of his shirt and someone's blood pooled in his shoes. Neither Peter or Jamie were ever seen again. Adam, who was soon sent to boarding school in London and started going by his middle name "Rob," has been unable to recall what happened that day.

Rob joined the police to become a Murder detective and as a rookie, is briefly partnered with "this cretin called Quigley, who sounded like Daffy Duck with a Donegal accent." This changes with the arrival of Cassie Maddox, the only woman on the squad and the fifth in its history. Rob rescues her from the rain and a malfunctioning Vespa one evening and the two become inseparable. Having fueled intense speculation among the men, Cassie confides to Rob that her rapid promotion was the result of being stabbed working in the UCD, not because she blew her cover, but because the campus drug dealer whose trust she gained became paranoid she was trying to take over his business.

Despite token resistance by their superintendent O'Kelly against pairing up two rookies, Maddox & Ryan become partners and for the next couple of years, the partnership is bliss.

Contrary to appearances, Cassie is not a particularly social person, any more than I am: she is vivacious and quick with banter and can talk to anyone, but given the choice, she preferred my company to that of a big group. I slept on her sofa a lot. Our solve rate was good and rising: O'Kelly stopped threatening to split us up every time we were late turning in paperwork. Sam O'Neill drew a deft little caricature of the two of us as Mulder and Scully (I still have it, somewhere) and Cassie stuck it to the side of her computer, next to a bumper sticker that said BAD COP! NO DOUGHNUT!

Cassie & Rob are goofing off at work playing Worms on her office computer when O'Kelly enters the squad room. Archaeologists at a dig in the country where a new motorway is scheduled to be constructed have found the body of a young female. Cassie volunteers to take the case before O'Kelly adds that it's in Knocknaree. Cassie is the only cop who knows about Rob's past, but he assures his partner that he's all right, even though he hasn't returned to the woods of his childhood trauma since the summer of '84.

The area around Knocknaree has been inhabited more or less since the Stone Age, with a Neolithic settlement and a Bronze Age ceremonial stone among the historical sites which will soon be rendered to history by the motorway. The victim was found on the ceremonial stone, her skull caved in and ligature marks on her neck. Fully dressed, she appears to have been raped. Maddox & Ryan interview the site director, Dr. Hunt, his research assistant Mark and a few of the student volunteers, including Damien, the badly shaken boy who discovered the body.

One of the students identifies the victim: Katharine Devlin, aged 12, missing from the estates near the dig. Maddox & Ryan notify her family and Rob notices several things that bother him: Jonathan and Margaret Devlin don't touch throughout the interview. No neighbors stop by to console them. The surviving daughters, Rosalind (18) and Jessica (12) act much older or much younger than their respective ages. Katy was a local star, a dancer headed to the Royal Ballet School. Her father has launched a community drive seeking to redirect the motorway around the historical sites and has received threatening phone calls.

With the possibility that someone who has a financial stake in the motorway killed Katy, Maddox & Ryan are given a partner, Sam O'Neill, a straight-shooter whose uncle is a mid-level minister and has contacts in the shady world of Irish county councils. Once Cassie determines that their killer had to be local, the pair also have to consider their case is related to the 1984 disappearances which Rob has redacted from his memory. He considers revealing his identity to O'Kelly and taking himself off the case, but feels driven to solve Katy's murder, whether or not he's ever able to journey back into the events of his youth and find answers.

If In the Woods had been subtitled "New York Murder Squad" or "San Francisco Murder Squad," it's doubtful I'd have picked the book up, but Tana French, an American who's resided in Dublin since 1990, tests a theory of mine: even the most strip mined sub-genre can have life breathed into it by relocating the story to a different country or era. A mob story set in New Jersey does not interest me. I've seen it. A mob story set in South Africa has my attention, as does a mob story set in 1880s New Jersey. Anyone who's always wanted to travel to Dublin can do no worse than this novel in terms of atmosphere.

We work on the grounds of Dublin Castle, and it spite of all the colonial connotations this is one of my favorite perks of the job. Inside, the rooms have been lovingly refurbished to be exactly like every corporate office in the country--cubicles, fluorescent lighting, staticky carpet and institution-colored walls--but the outsides of the buildings are protected and still intact: old, ornate red brick and marble, with battlements and turrets and worn carvings of saints in unexpected places. In winter, on foggy evenings, crossing the cobblestones is like walking through Dickens--hazy gold streetlamps, throwing odd-angled shadows, bells pealing in the cathedral nearby, every footstep ricocheting into darkness; Cassie says you can pretend you're Inspector Abberline working on the Ripper murders.

French's prose sings with brevity and detail, wit and mystique. She's not above dropping the occasional pop culture reference, whether to Stephen King or Law & Order, which dates her clearly as someone from my generation, the TV Generation, which I appreciated. French's observations and asides on the suspects Maddox & Ryan interview cut glass, and frequently turned my cheeks into a grin. For a novel set in Dublin, though, she almost completely does away with the regional patois that makes an author like Roddy Doyle something of a linguistics project for an American.

After presenting an abundance of suspects and motives -- Cassie even considers, privately, that our unreliable narrator Detective Ryan could be responsible -- I was sufficiently caught off guard and completely enamored by the reveal of the killer. I don't read enough mysteries to make a sport out of Guessed It/ Didn't Guess It and can't say the reveal will surprise everyone who picks up this book, but I was practically doing cartwheels over the way French spins the climax, which I found to be more exciting than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example.

In the Woods is one of the best novels I've read so far. My ardor has little to do with killers or murder weapons or plot diagrams; it's the way French builds the relationship between Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan. She echoes something I've read Lorne Michaels state on the nature of friendships: when we meet someone, we get a finite amount of time with them, which we can use up in a short period, or spend over a lifetime. I've had intense friendships that burned up and it was with melancholy and heartbreaking realization that I saw Cassie & Rob headed in that direction.

Damn you, Tana French! I don't even have a box of tissue paper and if there's one thing worse than getting emotional over a novel, it's getting emotional with toilet paper to dry your eyes with.

Dublin Murder Squad has currently spawned four sequels, beginning with The Likeness. On the basis of French's debut, I can't see getting around to Hemingway or Fitzgerald until I read everything she's written.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
December 13, 2014
When a twelve year old girl is found murdered at an archaeological dig, Detective Ryan and Maddox are on the case. But what does this case have to do with a similar case twenty years earlier, a case that saw an adolescent Ryan as the only survivor?

As a veteran of detective fiction, riddles, and brain teasers, I'm a big fan of mysteries that keep me guessing. In the Woods was one of those sorts of mysteries.

In the Woods is the story of two detectives looking for answers, both on the case they're working and inside themselves. Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are partners and best friends on the Dublin Murder Squad, detectives who catch all the murders that come down the pipe. When Katy Devlin is found murdered and sexually assaulted, they find themselves in the soup pretty quickly. Complicating things is the fact that Rob Ryan used to be Adam Ryan, a lad whose friends disappeared one afternoon, their bodies never found.

In the Woods is very well written and it could be read as simply a police procedural, and it would have been a very good one. The thing that sets it apart from most run of the mill books of this type are the main characters. Rob and Cassie are very well written, real to the point that I wanted to shout at them a few times. Even though it took place in Dublin, it kind of reminded me of The Wire in that there was no happily ever after ending and no action. It was all gritty police work and even grittier interpersonal stuff.

The mystery itself was solveable. Hell, the clues were even pointed out but I was too busy getting misdirected by French's skills. When the truth behind Katy's death was revealed, it was even more chilling than I'd imagined.

Great, great book. I wouldn't say it was the best book I read in 2014 but it's definitely in the top ten. Tana French can lead me In The Woods any day. 4.5 out of 5.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
May 3, 2019
I love it most of all on your bog-standard Irish days, when wind blows rain-spatter in your face and everything blurs into elusive, Puritan half-tones: gray-white clouds, gray-green sea off on the horizon, great sweep of bleached-fawn sand edged with a scatter of broken shells, wide abstract curves of dull silver where the tide is coming in unevenly.

It’s slow paced with focus more on characters than plot. I love the way she reveals people in small groups. Those glances and slight changes that contain more information than the words spoken. Yeah, I know the murderer is a bit obvious. And, Rob seems straight-forward and sympathetic until you know him better. But I kept reading.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.6k followers
January 26, 2011
As seen on The Readventurer

In the Woods reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn's novels (Sharp Objects and Dark Places). All these books are very dark mysteries/psychological thrillers and they all are as much about particular crimes the narrators investigate as they are about the narrators themselves, a disturbed bunch.

Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin Murder squad, and his partner Cassie Maddox are assigned to investigate a murder of a pre-teen girl. The thing is, the girl's body is found in the same woods where 20 years prior Rob's two best childhood friends disappeared. Rob undoubtedly witnessed their disappearance but has absolutely no recollection of what actually happened. Are these two crimes connected? Will investigating this new crime stir Rob's repressed memories? Is it a good idea at all for Rob to be involved in this case?

In the Woods is a very strong debut novel. Although a little too wordy in places, it is still a beautifully written, skillfully constructed mystery, with a multitude of red herrings. But my favorite part of this book was witnessing the effect of the investigation on the detectives working on it. It almost destroys all people involved. And our narrator, Rob, is a very special head case. His transformation is particularly striking.

I found the entire story very satisfying in terms of crime-solving. I was pleasantly surprised by how neatly French wrapped things up. Well, except that one huge piece of the puzzle that apparently infuriated a bunch of readers (not me though). That bit of unfinished business will have me coming back for more Tana French's novels.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,174 reviews8,405 followers
August 20, 2016
A very well-constructed and impressive debut novel. I had a bittersweet moment near the end when I realized that my theory from near the start of the book was correct; happy to be right, but also a bit bummed that I had figured it out. It wasn't much of a twist for me, but I honestly don't know how I solved it so early on. Don't let that keep you from reading this book. There were still quite a few surprising moments that didn't deal directly with the mystery, and those were incredibly satisfying. It really is a great novel—a mystery with many layers, characters with depth, and beautiful writing. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Orient.
255 reviews211 followers
February 11, 2018

A cover for Lithuanian edition. Creepy, IKR! 😱

I must thank two of my GR friends, Ginger and Michael, for turning my attention to this peculiar book! Thanks, guys 😉💜

Interesting plot with mysteries and stuff.

The story started off very well, with funny bits, conversations and I was hooked in from the very beginning. The first person narrative really helped and I liked following Rob Ryan in his investigation, he made me a partner and I love it in my detective reads. The grim and real police work, the dead-ends, the annoying bureaucracy and the final countdown when you reach the very essence of the story. Smooth and gripping, huh? Well, it wasn’t so all the time.

The first two fourths of the story were really interesting to read, because the writing is very detailed and expresses a well-built mystery, the pages just flew upon my eyes. The description of the places, surroundings is gripping and simply charming, I liked the common people there, with their ordinary life, was disturbed by their dark side. The atmosphere in dark moments was really effective enough to inspire horror and keep me wondering, what is there between the façade of this place.
I mentioned a problem with smoothness and I stumbled upon it when reaching the ¾ of the book. The plot is really gripping but I lost the pull when the main character decided that it’s more “interesting” to whine endlessly, bathing in self-loathing while I really REALLY wanted to know what happened further in the investigation. It just dragged the story into long and a bit boring phase with lots of eye-rolling for me. But to my great joy, this changed when I reached to the final part of the book.

Memorable characters I can root for(or hate a lot!).

The story centers upon two colleagues and best friends at the same time, they supplement each other, they are interesting and fun to observe. Until…..until one of them decides to play the drama queen for too long! Oh, I know what you’d say: ‘But this character experienced so much trouble in the past!’ I understand it, but it doesn’t leave the right to hurt another character who experienced some psychological harm, too. Moreover, knowing it and being a total selfish bastard with a friend who’s closest to you!

Remembering all the characters, I think that the author did a great job, they are well fleshed-out and complicated personalities with strengths and weaknesses. Some may look minor and unnecessary but it’s def not so, they all have a place in making this book outstanding and move the story forward. I loved the psychological study of the human character there a lot, the sneak peeks into psychopath’s mind and the awesome mind of the person who sees it and cracks the mysteries open! It’s a gem in this book. And her name is Cassie 💜

Some fun parts from the book 😉

Cassie moved her stuff to the desk beside mine, and Costello got stuck with Quigley and gave us sad reproachful looks for weeks, like a martyred Labrador.

“I think I’ll transfer somewhere nice and peaceful, like ERU,” I said.
“ERU needs fast response times, sweetie,” Cassie said. “If it takes you half an hour to decide what to do with an imaginary worm, they’re not gonna want you in charge of hostages.”
At that point O’Kelly banged into the squad room and demanded, “Where is everyone?” Cassie hit Alt-Tab fast; one of her worms was named O’Smelly and she had been purposefully sending him into hopeless situations, to watch him get blown up by exploding sheep.

All in all, this book is not a happy story, but it is a gripping read with suspense, interesting detective spices, peculiar and mostly charming character development, disturbing insight into what’s behind the nice surface of the ordinary life. Not sure if I continue with the series, but we'll see 😉

Profile Image for Marya.
1,355 reviews
March 25, 2008
Despite not finishing this book, I could not reconcile what I had read with the blurbs on the back cover. It was almost as though the review authors and I were reading entirely different books.

True, the author is prosaic, but that does not automatically translate into "beautiful and brilliantly evocative prose". I found her prose to be long-winded, and used exclusively for atmospheric descriptions, rather than to further the plot.

Secondly, the blurbs mentioned vivid characters. Indeed, the author does spend a great deal of time on the characters (I would even go so far as to say characterization is the A plot and the murder mystery is the B plot). Yet, this is done almost exclusively in a "tell" instead of a "show" by having the narrator constantly reflect on events in his past.

Finally, all reviews mentioned tight pacing. If a book is prosaic and spends most of its time on lengthy atmospheric descriptions or detailed past stories of the narrator's life, how can it be tightly paced? There's no time to move the plot along with so many detours!

If you want to read about characters, and explore them for their own sake, then this a good book for that. It is not a good book if you want a thrilling, tightly paced mystery.
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