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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: IN THE WOODS by Tana French

Penguin, 2008
464 pages  $15.00

I reviewed Lisa Unger's BeautifulLies last month and gave it a half-hearted "fun summer read" rating. But if you really want to lose yourself in a summer crime story, put Tana French's first novel, In the Woods, on the top of your nightstand stack.

The premise is intriguing enough: The only surviving victim of an old unsolved case of missing children has grown up and become a detective. Once a carefree twelve-year-old in the suburbs of Dublin, now-Detective Rob Ryan has joined the Murder Squad and has only one real friend: his partner, Cassie Maddox. When Ryan and Maddox are assigned to a murder case involving a twelve-year-old ballet student from Ryan's hometown of Knocknaree, Ryan's memories start to return: The dense wood that was his childhood playground; his two best friends; the day the police found him catatonic and covered in blood, able to offer no memory of what had happened to his playmates, who were never seen again.

It seems Ryan has two mysteries to solve--who murdered young Katy Devlin and who robbed him of his own childhood twenty years ago? And could the two cases be related? And we're off and running.

One thing that makes Tana French's book such a great lose-yourself read is that the tension never dials down to a quiet hum. Despite being very much a police procedural--you get it all, investigation techniques, police banter, the blustering supervisor--the story is as much about Ryan's injured psyche and his relationship with Maddox as it is about the mystery. Each of the three stories--Katy's investigation, Ryan's memories, and his changing partnership--keeps its own thread of suspense taut throughout a surprisingly long novel. Told completely from Ryan's viewpoint, the book moves along, prodded by a complex, flawed narrator.

The prose style is elegant without being flowery, the pacing solid, the ending satisfying--or, at least, real. If you enjoy a good mystery, great characters, and late nights of annoying your significant other by keeping the reading light on, pick up In the Woods. You won't be sorry.

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