Title: In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)
Author: Tana French
Rating: 3.75 (?) Stars
In the Woods is one of those books that you finish feeling bereft – bereft of answers, bereft of joy, bereft of happiness. Suddenly, grief and sorrow and despair are your companions as this is a novel that leaves you feeling so, so sad and heartbroken. It’s a story that will shock you to your very core, rattle your nerves, and make you re-think everything you ever thought was true. It is, in every sense of the term, a psychological thriller like no other.
When Katy Devlin, a twelve-year-old ballet dancer, is murdered and found on an archaeological excavation site, Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox suddenly find themselves taking on the case. Not only is Katy’s case extremely mysterious, with red herrings and suspects popping out from every nook and cranny, but her death happened in Knocknaree. Years ago, three children disappeared into the woods of Knocknaree and only one came back alive. Adam, the lone survivor, was unable to remember anything of the events he was witness to and the bodies of the other two children were never found. Adam, however, has grown up now and changed his name to Rob Ryan, who is now back in Knocknaree after avoiding the area for years. Thus, Rob cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between the two cases. What he and Cassie do uncover though is a trail of secrets, mysteries, and horror so sick it will thoroughly mess with your mind.
In the Woods is one of those novels that all of my GoodReads friend’s seem to love and very few other people in the world seem to know about. Thus, while I knew it would be a mind-blowing mystery and psychological thriller going into it, I don’t think I quite expected what I got. You see, In the Woods starts out much the same way as any other mystery novel. We have our detectives, Cassie and Ryan, who conduct their investigations, rule out their suspects, add more suspects, conduct more investigations, etc. In fact, the true psychological mind-warp of this story doesn’t even emerge until the last 30% or so of this tale. Yet, what makes it such a brilliant story isn’t merely those last few chapters which suck all the breath out of your lungs – it’s the steady build-up throughout the entire tale.
I suppose I should make myself clearer, so I will explain. In the Woods felt, at many times, very redundant to me. It was as if Cassie and Ryan were interrogating the same person or asking the same questions and the investigation seemed to go around in circles at times. This, as I soon came to learn, was purposeful and served to broaden the bigger picture by the end of the story. So, I guess what I’m really saying here is that you should stick with this one because it is so rewarding in the end. You won’t feel like putting this one down while you read it, simply because it’s a mystery and like all mysteries, you can’t leave it unfinished, but that doesn’t mean that while it’s down you’ll feel like picking it back up again, because sometimes you won’t. In fact, at times the writing can even become too cluttered with prose and details, but much like how Stormdancer is worth the wait and slow build-up, In the Woods is too.
What makes In the Woods such a phenomenal – and original – thriller is not only the psychological aspects of it, but the characters themselves. Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox make themselves slowly a part of your heart with their endearing habits, sarcasm, and quick wit. I feel as if I know them so well now; as if they’re real and sitting in front of me this very moment. I feel as if I can see into their very souls – that’s how well-rounded and deeply they are written into this story. If it were not for my intense feelings towards these two – feelings that the author developed and made me feel before it even registered I was feeling them – this novel would not have been as strong as it was.
Rob really is our main character in this tale as it is his narration which guides this story, so while we get a deeper look into his mind and the psychological effects of the trauma he suffered through as a child, Cassie is also an equally important character. You see, the friendship between Rob and Cassie was hands-down my favorite aspect of this story. It was beautiful, filled with understanding, and is the type of friendship you can only dream about. I do have to warn you though that the hint of romance in this novel is simply heart-breaking. I could hear my heart shatter…that’s how real it felt.
In all honesty, there isn’t much more I can say about this book. It’s a mystery and as such, not much can be described without revealing the big plot twists. Ultimately though, In the Woods is a truly phenomenally-written novel by an author who not only knows how to write a chilling mystery, but also knows how to get into your mind and twist your very emotions along with those of her characters. In the Woods doesn’t provide too much closure at the end either, but all this just contributes to its eerie mood. I did feel extremely depressed the moment I closed this book, but I am impressed with French’s ability to make me feel so strongly for something I first thought was a mere murder mystery. Will I be picking up the sequel? Absolutely, although not without a few happier reads in-between. In the Woods is a must-read novel for any mystery/psychological thriller fans. If, however, you don’t appreciate having your mind bended and warped in every direction possible, you may just want to pass up on this one because no matter how good you are at predicting mysteries, you will not see this plot twist coming. ;)