Review of “In The Woods” by Tana French

This debut novel won the Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Edgar Awards, and I thought they were well-deserved.

Although this is a police procedural mystery, it has literary qualities uncommon in the genre. French begins by describing the summer when a pivotal crime takes place:

“…this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. 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, One! two! three! This summer will never end.”

The story is narrated by 30-year-old murder detective Adam Robert Ryan. He is the survivor of a crime committed in August of 1984 when he and two of his friends, all aged twelve, were playing in the woods. Only Adam came back, covered in blood. He never remembered what happened, and was afraid to try.

When another child is found dead in the same area eighteen years later, Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox draw the case. Ryan and Cassie have become best friends, but no more than that – at first. As the case heats up and Ryan starts to get sporadic memories back, he gets close to a nervous breakdown, and all his relationships as well as his job become threatened. He never knew how happy he had been prior to this case, until it was over….

Evaluation: French is not only an excellent wordsmith, but is expert at character studies as well. At one point Ryan says, “I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.” Indeed, French draws her characters with warts and all, making them that more realistic for doing so. And yet, in spite of their failings, you can’t help but like Ryan and Cassie and hope for the best for them. In the end, while you desperately wish this turned out more like a fairy tale, you recognize that the author told the better story.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Viking, 2007

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30 Responses to Review of “In The Woods” by Tana French

  1. Sandy says:

    I was just constructing my best of list for 2010 and this is on it. They say that mystery thrillers are rarely literary, but French has got that one nailed. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one!

  2. softdrink says:

    Admit it, you read it because it’s the first in a series.

    I was one of the few people in the universe that just thought this one was ok. I much preferred the second book…more psychological tension, and no woo-woo stuff that never amounted to anything.

  3. Fyrefly says:

    I loved this book when I read it about a year ago, and I’m not usually a mystery/police procedural reader at all. I’ve been stalling on reading The Likeness, though, for no good reason… maybe so I can keep a “back-up” supply of books I know are going to be good for reading emergencies?

  4. Rural View says:

    Beautifully written description of summer. I think this book should go on my list.

  5. Amanda says:

    You know, I’ve thought about reading this for a long time, but hesitated. Having your good word on it though goes a long way towards getting me to pick it up. Perhaps i’ll read it during RIP next year?

  6. bermudaonion says:

    I’ve had this for a while and would like to read it soon since everyone seems to like it so much.

  7. Trisha says:

    I read a bunch of different books but contemporary mysteries have never been a favorite of mine. I do seem to be adding a lot like this to the wish list though. Bad Bloggers. 🙂

  8. Julie P. says:

    This is one of those books that I know I’d love. I even own it. I just need to find the time to read it.

  9. Margot says:

    I like that this book has won all the mystery-related awards but still has the literary feel to it. I really like the quote about summer. I can feel it on this cold winter day.

  10. Darlene says:

    So many have loved this book. It’s on my wish list – maybe next year.

  11. Staci says:

    I have this one….need to read it!

  12. I loved reading your review. I recently won this from Jenners so anxious to read it.

  13. Oh I just LOVED this book! One of my all time favorites and definitely one of my favorites from the past year of reading. Absolutely fabulous.

  14. I keep hearing about how good how books are, and haven’t gotten around to read them yet. Glad to hear you like them! I’ll let it remain on my ever growing TBR list!

    BTW, you’ve won the salad dressing giveaways! I’d emailed you for your address, not sure if you got it. If you could email me as soon as possible that’d be great. Thanks! cytljjb @ gmail . com

  15. Nymeth says:

    Good writing and great character development is really all I ask for! I meant to read this one this year and never got around to it, but next year I will for sure.

  16. Jenny says:

    I liked this one okay, better than I think I’d like most police procedural-type mysteries (I am so squeamish), but I didn’t love it the way everyone else seemed to. The characters were well-developed but they didn’t interest me. :/

  17. Alyce says:

    Anything that is described as “police procedural” usually makes me run the other direction, but most people seem to like this book and author. At least someday if my reading tastes change a bit I’ll know which books are the ones to read.

  18. zibilee says:

    This is a series that I have heard nothing but good things about, and Sandy even gave me the first book last time we met, so there is no excuse for me not to read it now! I will have to let you know what I think of it. Excellent review, by the way!

  19. Thrilled that you enjoyed this one, and I can’t wait to read it — I have it sitting on my shelf waiting for me!

  20. Ti says:

    I really like this book but for some reason never picked up the second book. I loved the slowness of it.. how the characters sort of unfolded right before you eyes. Normally I don’t care for such a slow pace but with this one, I didn’t mind it at all.

  21. Steph says:

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one! As you know, I love me some Tana French, and I remember being completely spellbound by this book when I read it. I do think the next book, The Likeness, is even better so do be sure to pick it up!

  22. Jenners says:

    I just loved this book …. and I respected that she chose to end the book the way she did. I’m moving on to The Likeness soon ( and I see that you read it already) so I’m going to skip your review until I read it.

  23. Lisa says:

    Okay, I may just have to say “the heck with the challenges” and start reading this immediately!

  24. Bumbles says:

    I’ve told Sandy before how little I enjoyed this book. Much like my dislike for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I feel like the odd man out. I agree that French’s writing is very good. But her story did not take me in the directions I wanted to go – I was more interested in the childhood mystery and did not buy into Rob’s character change. I didn’t find the ending all that surprising and it left me disappointed. I’m wondering why I am all alone on my Debbie Downer island? I guess I’m missing the popular thriller gene – I rarely find one that I love :0( I’m glad you enjoyed both of her books – time well spent with a book is such a treat.

  25. Literary Feline says:

    I am so glad you enjoyed this one! I did as well. Like you, I liked how she ended the book. I haven’t yet read French’s other books but hopefully will one of these days.

  26. Meg says:

    I’ve had this one in my TBR forever and have had it recommended countless times by readers I trust, but somehow… I’m afraid to pick it up? I’m so skittish, I worry that the murder mystery, etc., will freak me out. But I’m willing to give it a try!

  27. Matt says:

    Another author whom I’m afraid to read but have changed my mind because of the succession of recommendations from bloggers. “Wordsmith” is the word that convinces me so.

  28. stacybuckeye says:

    This has been on my tbr list for at least a few years. I need more reading time!

  29. Wendy says:

    I wasn’t in love with this book – but I liked it enough to buy the second in the series (and I still have to read it!!). I enjoy literary thrillers and I think French does a good job with the genre.

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