In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana FrenchIn the Woods by Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Published by Viking on May 17th 2007
Genres: Mystery/Thriller
Pages: 429

A gripping thriller and New York Times bestseller from the acclaimed author of Broken Harbor and The Secret Place

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.
Richly atmospheric and stunning in its complexity, In the Woods is utterly convincing and surprising to the end.

Look for French's new mystery, The Trespasser, for more of the Dublin Murder Squad.

4.5 Stars

What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this – two things: I crave truth. And I lie.

If I ever hear anyone say that murder mysteries are never well-written or literary I will shove this book in their face. I devoured this rather large gem within a couple days and found myself thinking about it long after I had finished.

I can see how this book will only be enjoyed by a certain type of reader. If you’re annoyed by metaphors, similes and other literary devices or don’t like wordy books, this one isn’t for you. If you’re a reader who needs everything resolved and explained in the end, this one isn’t for you either. But if you enjoy psychological thrillers with messed up characters, absolutely pick this up.

The story follows Rob Ryan, a detective in the Dublin Murder Squad. He is assigned to solve the murder case of a 12-year-old ballet dancer together with his partner and friend, Cassie Maddox. What his supervisors don’t know however, is that the case hits a bit too close to home for Rob: twenty years earlier two kids disappeared in those same woods where the young girl was murdered, two kids who coincidentally happened to be Rob’s best childhood friends. We watch as the cases (both the old and the new) unfold before us, dragging up unwanted memories and causing the detectives to slowly deteriorate and become increasingly on edge as one dead end after another presents itself.

In the Woods is not simply a murder mystery. It’s a study of characters, a deeply insightful story about people and their reasons for acting the way they do, a look at love, loss, friendship, memory and so much more. The characters were so wonderfully palpable and authentic that I felt like they were in the room with me, like they were real people going about their daily lives. Tana French draws detailed and nuanced portraits of her characters that you cannot help but feel empathy for. This is also what makes this book so painful to read at times.

I both loved and hated Rob Ryan. Loved because at heart he is a good person who doesn’t do things out of spite, but simply because he is lost and doesn’t know any better. Hated because he is so flawed and does so many things wrong that I just wanted to slap him most of the time. Ultimately though, I came to care for him a great deal and didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, I just wished him happiness.

I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect.

Cassie on the other hand, I just loved. I found her to be such an empowering female character: dynamic and full of life, witty and intelligent, kind yet not naïve.

For me the best thing about this book (and I would argue for most readers) is the friendship between Rob and Cassie. It’s so freaking wonderful. The kind of friendship everyone dreams of but most will never find. A way of understanding the other person without words, to know what they need when they need it, to want to sacrifice your own happiness for the other. It filled me with a sense of nostalgia, of longing, and made this book so touching without even trying.

If she had hurt me, I could have forgiven her without even having to think about it; but I couldn’t forgive her for being hurt.

And then there is the writing. That gorgeous mix of stunning prose and hilarious wit that made the book not only an entertaining read but a deep one as well. The novel was filled with little philosophically and psychologically stimulating snippets and I loved that aspect of the book so much. How Tana French managed to interweave her wordier writing style with a fast-paced mystery is truly masterful and I immediately felt in good hands once I had started the book.

The mystery itself was engaging and perfectly paced. I loved how Tana French planted so many red herrings and introduced different characters to constantly keep the reader on his toes. However, I did guess who the person behind the murder was relatively quickly and this is also the reason I’m not giving this book five stars. Additionally, some of the explanations were a bit convenient. Having said that though, it really didn’t majorly impact my reading experience since this book is more about the characters than just the plot.

The ending frustrated many people and I can definitely see why, but I really liked it. There are couple of things you could have issues with: View Spoiler »

Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend it. It left me with a hollow feeling after finishing it and I cannot wait to read the second instalment (which I’ve already bought). If you’re in the mood for a good mystery/thriller, definitely give this a try.


  1. ROB!! I’m not over it. I will never, I think? Wonderful review Chantal!

    • chantal

      October 2, 2016 at 7:58 PM

      SAME!! I had so many emotions at the end of the book! I don’t think we’ll ever get over it 🙁 Thank you so much, Anna! Will you be continuing the series? I saw on GR that you didn’t enjoy The Likeness, will you be reading Faithful Place?

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