Monday, December 17, 2012

In the Woods ~ Tana French

So remember how after I read Gone Girl, I was all, normally I don't read mystery thrillers because I'm a book snob but this one was purported to be so good that I condescended to make an exception?  Okay, not really, but yeah, usually I stay away from such fare.  Well, I've broken my own rule again, and again due to my fellow bloggers knocking me on the head and saying read this and I'm just glad that I've gotten better at listening.  Because In the Woods was definitely worth straying out of my comfort zone for the second time of late.
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.

5 comments:

  1. I loved this book so much. The successive books are good reads, but it wasn't until Broken Harbor (just saying the title gives me chills) that I thought she was back up to her writing chops as in In the Woods. Glad you enjoyed this one. I certainly did.

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    1. I'm up to Faithful Place now, and In the Woods is definitely still my favorite, though I'm really enjoying them all! I had a hard time buying The Likeness (though I still loved Cassied and her story) and Frank Mackey (no idea if that's spelled right since I'm listening to the audiobook) is kind of annoying. But entertaining and adorable with his kid!

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  2. Oooh! So glad you liked this one. This was my least favorite of the four but still very entertaining. You make an interesting point with the psychopath analysis because I didn't really even think of that until I just read it. So very true. I think it's explored a little more in The Likeness, but we can discuss when you finish. I found that I couldn't do these on audio. I heard that Faithful Place was amazing on audio so got for a cross country drive. My boyfriend loved it but I just didn't think the voice matched what I had already read. I guess I'm just not an audio person. Look forward to seeing your thoughts on the next novel!

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    1. Really? I'm up to Faithful Place now and In the Woods is my favorite! It's also the best audiobook of the three, in my opinion. I didn't get that sense about the psychopathy as much from The Likeness as from this one - I don't think Cassie manipulated the fab four as much as she just loses control of herself and her professionalism and truly becomes one of them. But I'll post that review next week.

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  3. So glad you enjoyed this, it's definitely one of my favorites this year. I promptly bought her other books and am trying to find time to carve out a long weekend with them.

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