Monday, December 17, 2012
In the Woods ~ Tana French
So. Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad, is called to a murder scene. A twelve year old girl is dead, her body found in the same stretch of woods where Rob himself was found as a child, terrified, with shoes full of blood, and unable to recall what happened to his two best friends. As Rob and his partner, Cassie, pursue the killer, they also find themselves investigating the decades-old crime, memories of which may be coming back to Rob. As Rob gets closer to the answer, he also gets close to a reality within himself, of who he is and who he can't be.
This had me gripping my seat and finding excuses to keep listening). It wasn't so much the mystery that grabbed me, though that was interesting and full of enough red herrings to mystify any amateur murder detective, but Rob's psychological unravelling. And even more than that, the way that he made me side with him - he's risking both his and his partner's career by staying on a case that he's so close to, but it's so clear why he does it and why you would too. How could he turn away from finding out who he is and what made him into that person?
It wasn't until about a third of the way through the novel that Rob reveals that he is narrating the story from after the fact, which lends an excellent ominousness to the story - where is he now? What does he know? These questions aren't necessarily answered and I didn't mind that. There are bigger questions than that that stay unanswered, and it becomes obvious that that's not really the point. Plus, I like an author who doesn't mean leaving some things open - life doesn't neatly tie itself up, so why should literature? There are some things we never know.
My favorite detail of In the Woods, after the fact at least, was the discussion of psychopaths in the novel. "Psychopath" isn't a real clinical term (it's not in the DSM-IV), but apparently it's used in criminal justice. It describes a person with no moral code, who lives for pleasing him/herself, and who is highly skilled in manipulating others to meet his/her own ends. There is a psychopath in the novel, but more important is the unspoken question that Rob and Cassie seem left with at the end - what differentiates them from psychopaths? Throughout the novel, we see them use all sorts of techniques to manipulate witnesses and suspects into giving them what the want, whether those people want to give it to them. How far can this go before they become no different from the psychopath that they pursue? French doesn't actually pose this question, so perhaps I'm extrapolating here, but either way it gave this so-called "thriller" some excellent subtext.
My only complaint about the novel was that French has some trouble editing herself. She clearly has trouble ending things, and some chapters just went on a touch too long. The end of the book itself really dragged - as sad as I was that it was over, I just needed it to be done as French smushed at least an hour's worth of extra information into the final chapters. Sometimes, less is more.
As for the audiobook: the narration was very good. Despite being Irish, Rob has an English accent due to the English boarding school he attended as a child, and really, British men generally makes the best narrators. Just saying.