Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

I picked this book up because it seemed to promise beautiful writing, complex characters, and a satisfying mystery. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet my expectations and left me unsatisfied after turning the last page. I have to give it kudos for beautiful writing though.

In the Woods tells the story of Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, two Murder detectives on an Irish squad. When Rob Ryan was a kid, his best friends Jamie and Peter disappeared one day in the woods. They were never found. Rob was found, though, with blood-soaked sneakers and a blank memory of the incident.

Now, twenty years later, Rob has a friendly/flirtatious relationship with his partner Cassie, and the old case has come up again in connection with a new one. A young girl has been murdered, and her body was found on the altar stone at an archeological dig site. Rob keeps his identity to himself and teams with Cassie to close both cases.

The premise intrigued me and held my interest, although the book seemed to slow at times for lengthy description and bantering dialogue. For the most part, I didn’t mind the descriptions. I really revel in high-quality writing, the kind where a vivid picture is summoned to mind at the words of the author.

On the other hand, the banter between Cassie and Ryan became tedious. Sure, at first I marveled at the wit of their conversations, but eventually I felt like the author was trying too hard to have ravishingly interesting dialogue, and that realization took me out of the story. It didn’t feel like real life, or even the distilled parts of real life that dialogue is supposed to capture.

Over the course of the book, Rob showed promise of developing as a character, but that promise was never fulfilled. I think that’s part of why the story left me deeply unsatisfied. I understand that happy endings aren’t the only endings, but I look for characters who at least move forward in their personal development. As for Cassie, she was almost perfect in every way. Witty, wise, playful, kind, quirky, etc. I can’t hate a character who drives a Vespa, but it’d have been nice to see some human flaws in her.

I could have lived with the characters if the plot had blown me away. However, there are three major components to the book’s narrative, and only one of them was even somewhat resolved. The rest were left dangling, and after putting down the book I felt cheated. I believe that a complete narrative arc is a universal, ancient quality of writing. I had so much hope for this novel, but I just couldn’t like it after seeing how it concluded. Still, the atmosphere of Knocknaree and the woods was rendered well, and I might consider reading another book by the author, as long as there’s a real ending.

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