In the Woods by Tana French

3433956Fiction – audiobook. Read by Steven Crossley. Penguin Audio, 2007. 20 hours, 24 minutes. Purchased.

In 1984, twelve-year-old Adam Ryan is found clutching a tree in the woods of Knocknaree, a suburb of Dublin. This discovery would be unremarkable if Adam and his two friends hadn’t been missing for days and if one of Adam’s shoe wasn’t filled with blood. Adam is unable to remember how he ended up in the woods, and his two friends – a girl named Jamie and a boy named Peter – are never found.

Twenty years later, Adam Ryan – who now goes by his middle name, Robert (or Rob) – is a detective with the Dublin police force. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are dispatched to an archeological site in Knocknaree where the body of a local twelve-year-old girl has been found. Katy Devlin was expected to join the Royal Ballet School soon, and her murder digs up nasty reminders of the past – both for Detective Ryan and for the community of Knocknaree.

I read French’s Dublin Murder Squad series out of order, and started with the second book in the series, The Likeness, back in 2012. (This book is the first in the series.) I expected the series to feature Maddox as the narrator given her lead role in the second series, and I was taken aback when the audiobook began with a male narrator.

The change in narrators works in my favor because I don’t have to worry about reading the series in order if each book features a new main character. But it also worked for me because of how much I enjoyed Ryan’s weaving of the past, the present, and the mental space of speculation on what happened in 1984 and 2004. He’s upfront in telling you that he is an unreliable narrator, and as he and Maddox remind each other throughout the story, he’s too close to this case and likely shouldn’t be working it.

Which means the question of trust lingers throughout Ryan’s recount of the case. Does he know more about the 1984 case than he admits? Is he sympathetic to a certain character because he recognizes a kindred spirit or because he wants to protect his position on the case?

Ultimately, though, the reason why I enjoyed French’s novel so much is because it is one of the few mystery novels where I felt kept in the dark from beginning to end. Like Ryan and Maddox, I kept thinking the suspect and the motive had been identified, but then I’d glance at my iPhone to check the time and realize I still had hours to go with the audiobook. Each red herring kept me on edge, and each one felt like a believable thread to follow.

And, without giving too many spoilers away, I really enjoyed the fact that ending wasn’t tied up neatly in a bow. One case goes unsolved; one case ends in the most maddening and unexpected way. It felt far more realistic of an ending, especially given how “cold” one of the cases had gone.

I’ve been collecting the other novels in French’s series over the years and letting them linger on my shelves out of the assumption that I had to read them in order. Now that I know that’s not the case (and that this novel is so good), I’m eager to pull the rest of the series off my shelves and add them to the read-sooner-rather-than-later stack on my nightstand.

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