Tana French’s “In the Woods”

In Tana French’s psychological thriller, In the Woods, Detective Ryan compares the truth to “the most desirable woman in the world” and calls humans “the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her.” It’s beautifully said and brilliantly demonstrated throughout the novel. The criminals lie to the police, trying to avoid prosecution—obviously; the police lie to the criminals in order to get their confessions; the detectives withhold the truth from their superiors so they can stay on the case that they’re assigned to investigate… And so it goes, lies and truth intertwined.

For some, though, “the truth can set us free,” as they say. When he was twelve, Det. Ryan witnessed the disappearance of his two best friends, but when he was found in the woods, in shock, with blood in his shoes, he had no memory of what exactly had happened. His friends vanished without a trace. Now, twenty years later, he’s hoping that the murder of a twelve-year-old girl, in the same place in the woods, will trigger a recollection of his own tragedy.

The novel’s ending is quite upsetting, but realistic. It’s the first one in the series about Detective Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, and it won numerous awards. I love the writing (achingly beautiful), the characters (intelligent, tough, savvy, but with flaws), and the gripping plot, with twists and turns.

Tana French is an extremely talented writer. I highly recommend her novels. I’ve started her second one in the series, The Likeness, and I’m hooked from page one.

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8 thoughts on “Tana French’s “In the Woods”

  1. Yes, I agree, Tana French is an extremely talented writer. I read her book Broken Harbor, and it has such good portraits and dialogue between the policemen investigating the murder, and drops such provocative and troubling clues, so that you know something is amiss but can’t put your finger on what it is. Will definitely look for these two books!

    • Beth, you should’ve started with her first one in the series, In the Woods, because that’s when Tana French establishes her protagonists. “In the Woods” is so spectacular I can’t stop thinking about it. The ending makes you feel such regret that you can’t wait to read a sequel and see if there’s something in it that may “repair” what’s “broken” in the first book. “Broken” not only in a personal relationship but in the judicial system. I just LOVE Cassie Maddox and her partner! So I’ve started reading “The Liking” and liking it,) although “liking” is too weak a word for what I feel for this book. French is a terrific writer!

  2. This sounds like a very interesting read, one that makes you actively think while reading. I’ll look for it when I get back from my travels.

    • Vin, thanks for your reply. You definitely should read it. Tana French is young (judging by her picture on the cover), but her books have won major literary awards. That tells you a lot about her talent. Her writing is not only beautiful (sometimes poetic), but very profound too. She really understands human nature.

  3. The writing in this book is really brilliant. Here is an example: “In some ways grief anonymizes as powerfully as a Greek tragedy mask, but in others it pares people to their essentials (and this is, of course, the real and icy reason why we try to tell families about their losses ourselves, rather than leaving it to the uniforms: not to show how much we care, but to see how they react), and we had borne bad news often enough to know the usual variations. Most people are shocked senseless, struggling for their footing, with no idea how to do this; tragedy is new territory that comes with no guide,a nd they have to work out, step by dazed step, how to negotiate it.

    • Beth, thanks for the quote. Yes, you read it and you think, wow, I know what she’s saying, totally, but I wouldn’t be able to put it in words the way she does.
      Have you finished the novel? I’ve GOT to ask you a question about the ending! 🙂

  4. Yes, I finished the book. It is so well written I didn’t want it to end; that being said, i really didn’t like the ending. The writer makes you feel so hopeful about Cassie and her partner establishing a strong bond and lasting connection, and then you leaves you feeling so despondent. OK looking for your question about the ending-

    • Beth, as much as I loved the book (I think it’s the best of the four), I wasn’t happy with the ending either–for two reasons. One: the criminal gets away with murder. Two: Rob Ryan’s mystery (disappearance of his two childhood friends) isn’t resolved.
      From the very beginning, it’s clear that these two mysteries are connected, and then BOOM! Both fail: one is still unsolved, the other one is, but the killer is unpunished.
      Still, it’s a great book because it’s so well-written.
      Read The Likeness, the second one, and tell me what you think, OK? 🙂

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