Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julie's Review: In The Woods

Summary: Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her debut. When Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl from Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb, is found murdered at a local archaeological dig, Det. Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, must probe deep into the victim's troubled family history. There are chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and the disappearance 20 years before of two children from the same neighborhood who were Ryan's best friends. Only Maddox knows Ryan was involved in the 1984 case. The plot climaxes with a taut interrogation by Maddox of a potential suspect, and the reader is floored by the eventual identity and motives of the killer. A distracting political subplot involves a pending motorway in Knocknaree, but Ryan and Maddox are empathetic and flawed heroes, whose partnership and friendship elevate the narrative beyond a gory tale of murdered children and repressed childhood trauma.

Review: I admit it: I started reading In the Woods and then put it down in favor of something else. I don't think I was in the mood for it. I will say that I'm so happy that I picked it back up to continuing reading it. It's a great, complex, well-crafted thriller/mystery/suspense, told through the eyes of Detective Rob Ryan. Rob is a complex character. He searches for the truth but he lies to us and himself. He's likable at times and other times I couldn't stand him. He was moody and irrational but yet you felt for him. You see he was left alive while his 2 best friends were apparently murdered in the woods near his house. He's blocked out the events but lives with tremendous guilt, even if he can't admit it to himself.

His partner is Cassie Maddox and she's got moxie. She's a wonderful character and not as flushed out as Rob but really In the Woods is his story. I'm sure we'll get to know Cassie more intimately in the next book, The Likeness. She and Rob are great partners in every sense of the word, except for physical intimacy..that they don't share. I loved the fact that this relationship was deep and yet still platonic. There was definitely a brother/sister vibe to it and even Rob states that as a fact as well. Since the book is told through Rob's eyes we really don't get to understand Cassie's point of view but as a reader you do feel that you know her as well as Rob.

For me the main plot was finding out what happened to Katy Devlin and what the motive was for her murder. The secondary plot was what happened to Rob, Peter and Jamie in those woods when they were younger. Early in the novel you are lead to believe that the two stories are intertwined and again this has to do with the fact that we are seeing it from Rob's POV and he desperately wants them to be linked so that he can solve the missing years of his life. I don't think I was ever on board with this line of thinking and as the book starts to wind down, you begin to see how they are or are not related to each other.

With any good suspense/thriller/mystery you are lead to believe one thing, get a twist that shoves you in another direction and then yet another twist pushing you back to either your original line of thinking or another direction. Ms. French definitely achieves that here. She kept me guessing all along whether what I was thinking was right or wrong. This is where I think how the author decides to write the point of view is extremely important. The plot and subplots work because it's told from Rob's and not from a 3rd person. We'd have a completely different book if it was told from Cassie's (not that I wouldn't mind reading that as well).

It took me a bit to get into this book but once I did I wanted to find out what happened to Katy and to the kids many years before. Ms. French is an expert at writing characters and painting them so vividly in your mind that they stick with you and reverberate. I will say that I did enjoy her writing style once I got used to her penchant for prose. The novel could have probably been about 50 pages less if it wasn't so descriptive at times. There were times when I felt that I was in Rob's head too much and it became burdensome.

If you like your crime thrillers/suspense books, then you should pick up and read In the Woods. I will be reading The Likeness very shortly and that focuses on Cassie. I look forward to getting to know her better and living in her head for a bit.

I thought this would be like Harlan Coben's The Woods and it was similar but yet very different.

Final Take: 4/5



Liz June 24, 2010 at 1:23 PM  

This plot sounds familiar to me -- I'm wondering if I picked it up earlier this year. (I have to say, I read enough books that, especially if it's a stand-alone that's not part of a series, I forget the author and title fairly quickly. Am I alone in this failing?) It could be I'm confusing it with the Coben book.

In any case, it sounds very good and I think I'll give it a look. Give Rogues, Riches and Retribution by Harry Taylor a look -- it's compelling, with an intriguing story and it will keep you guessing! A boy witnesses the death (accidental) of his father; he's trained, by the Mafia, to seek revenge one day. He travels from Italy to England to carry out his "mission," which is complicated by love (of course!). The Underworld, the Mafia, double-dealing, the beautiful people, an Arab, more double-dealing ... Lots going on and it's fun.

Liz June 24, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

I love your site, by the way!

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