Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In The Woods

In the Woods on Amazon

In the Woods on Audible

Tana French, 2007



This was a listen rather than a read and I downloaded it to my iPod from Audible. It is published by Penguin Audiobooks and the narrator is Steven Crossley on both the Audible download and the Penguin CD version. Crossley is an excellent narrator and I will look for his name when selecting other Audible downloads.

Pre-Spoiler Basics
Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are partners and detectives on the murder squad in Dublin, Ireland. They are both considered rookies and Cassie is the only woman. The story is a police procedural told in first person by Rob. Rob and Cassie have an intensely personal but not romantic friendship.

One day they are the only ones in the office when a call comes in that a body has been found at an archaeological dig in Knocknaree, a suburb of Dublin. This is their first major case.

A complication is introduced early when we learn that Rob - then called Adam - was living in Knocknaree twenty years previously when his two best friends disappeared in the woods while the three were playing. Rob was found bloodied and unable to remember anything that happened. The disappearance of his friends was never solved.

The dead person is twelve year old Katie Devlin. She has been found on a ancient Druid alter stone adjacent to the woods where Rob's friends disappeared. Rob is still deeply scared by the events of his childhood but keeps the information from his superior in order to remain on the case. He wants to know if the two events are related.

Readers of police procedurals will appreciate the thoroughness of their investigation as they check out the family, look for pedophiles, and consider the possibility of a Satanic cult. They are frustrated by the lack of evidence and the investigation is in danger of stalling.

As the frustrations of investigation mount, Rob has an increasingly more difficult time dealing with his childhood trauma.

I mostly enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I had my headphones on nearly every free moment until I finished it. French is a talented writer who gets the reader/listener involved in the story and characters. Potential readers be aware that reviewers on Amazon and Audible seem to fall into two camps: love it, it one of the best books they have read; hate it or very frustrated by it. I fall into the frustrated camp. See my comments below.

She has a second book in the works featuring Cassie and I look forward to reading it.

Spoiler Discussion

I really enjoyed about 75% of In the Woods but thought that it started to lose cohesiveness toward the end. From reading reviews on Amazon and Audible I'm not alone.

My first annoyance occurred early and seems like a clumsy plot contrivance. During the autopsy, the medical examiner describes how Katie was molested with a round wooden object that had some charring. Shortly thereafter, Rob and Cassie are back at the archaeological site and Rob hears, but doesn't react to hearing, one of the dig workers complain that his trowel is missing. Do you think this might have been a clue? The body is found at an archaeological dig. The workers use trowels. The trowles have wooden handles. Katie was molested by a rounded wooden object. I figured out what was used when the medical examiner described how she was molested. Having Rob not respond to hearing that a tool is missing from the dig is not essential to the story and could have been introduced elsewhere. As it is the reader is left wondering why a trained detective with an excellent close rate ignores such an important detail. Also, though Katie is found at an archaeological dig, they don't bother to search any of the buildings at the dig.

Second annoyance. A large part of the book deals with Rob's trauma from 20 years ago and the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of his two friends. This goes exactly nowhere. The story ends with no resolution or even hint of resolution. I realize that the author is saying that we can't always expect answers. It still feels like she broke faith with the readers who have invested a lot of emotional involvement in this plot element. This is the major complaint in Amazon reviews.

Third annoyance. Rob also spends considerable time describing his relationship with Cassie. They are very close and act as one on investigations. Though they are not romantically involved, Rob frequently sleeps over at Cassie's apartment. I found myself envious of the depth of their friendship. One night, tortured by his attempts to recall the events of twenty years ago, Rob ends up at Cassie's place and they have sex. The next morning Rob realizes what they have done and shuts Cassie out, immediately and completely, no discussion. He is cold, distant, and hostile and opens a rift between them that can't be closed. We get that Rob is a mess from his childhood trauma but that he could so quickly and completely shut Cassie out in spite of their years together just didn't sit right with me. I figure that French wanted to shock the reader by having Rob turn on someone he cared so much for thus showing us how deeply disturbed he is. It annoyed me.

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