In the Woods
After his friends Peter and Jamie mysteriously disappeared in the woods near their home, Adam Robert Ryan’s parents sent their son away to boarding school. The shock of the 1984 event had already given Adam amnesia, but he could never completely forget his best friends. When the three twelve-year-olds climbed the wall of their County Dublin neighborhood that summer day and entered the woods they knew so well, only Adam came out, with a slashed shirt, bark under his nails and shoes full of blood. Despite an intense investigation, the disappearance of Peter and Jamie was never solved and it’s been haunting Adam ever since.
Now, twenty years later, Adam goes as Rob and, although he’s back in his old neighborhood, he’s kept his past a secret from everyone except his partner, Cassie Maddox. As detectives on the Dublin Murder squad, they are investigating the murder of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin, whose body was found at an archeological dig site, on the edge of the same woods where Rob’s friends disappeared. Are the two cases connected? Should Rob even be on the investigation?
Tana French tells an excellent mystery, which is part murder investigation, part psychological study, part political tale and part love story. Clues point in many directions as Rob, Cassie and a third detective, Sam O’Neill, work the case. Is there abuse in the Devlin home? Is the murder connected to Jonathan Devlin’s involvement in a protest group that is trying to stop a highway from going through the dig site? What else happened in the woods the summer Peter and Jamie disappeared? The investigation continues to uncover facts that may or may not be related to the crime, muddling up an intriguing mystery. In addition, French develops sleeper characters that suggest new motives, leaving the reader to sort it out.
Rob, privately and desperately, wants to confront his past and connect it to Katy’s murder, but the intense investigation sends him into a destructive spiral. As his relationship with Cassie teeters between professional and personal, new events could jeopardize the case. And Rob, Cassie and Sam may not be ready when the case breaks with shocking revelations.
I enjoyed In the Woods very much for the same reason I like reading any book with many layers of plot and character development: there’s a lot going on. It’s much more than a classic mystery with a fast-moving plot and red herrings. It’s a commentary on family, relationships, society and police work. I especially enjoyed the dynamics between Rob and Cassie, their slick interrogation skills, and the unraveling of several key characters. I also liked the story because of its open-ended finish, with some satisfying tie-ins, but plenty to think about afterwards.
I recommend In the Woods to readers who enjoy complex mysteries and character studies.
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