CBR-V Review #1: In the Woods by Tana French

And here we go again! This time, I’m going to try to complete the full CBR (52 books)…37 wasn’t a bad showing, but I want to do the whole thing! It feels appropriate that I’m kicking off my Cannonball Read V off with the last of the Tana French novels (actually the first, but oh well).

Why I Read It: French was one of my favorite literary discoveries last year, and I’ve been obsessed with her for a few months now.

My Rating: 4/5

My Review: In the Woods is #1 in the Dublin Murder Squad series although, like I’ve said in my other reviews, it’s not totally necessary to read them all in order. Having read this one now, I would recommend reading #1 and #2 in order, because there’s a lot of narrative connection between the two, but #3 and #4 stand on their own much better.

Anyway, In the Woods opens in the mid-80’s, when three young children disappear into the woods outside a small Irish town. One of the three is found hours later, bloody and visibly shaken, with no memory of what occurred. The other two were never found. Twenty-some-odd years later, that boy–Adam Ryan, now going by the name of Rob–is a detective in Dublin’s homicide unit. He’s established a new life and a new identity, and rarely thinks of what happened to him as a child. This is all jeopardized, however, when he and his partner, Cassie, are called to a crime scene in the very woods where his friends disappeared years earlier. Ryan must solve the murder of 12-year-old Katie while simultaneously dealing with his memories of his past trauma.

This book is great, and definitely one of the strongest in the series (although they’re all fantastic–this one and Broken Harbor are probably my favorites). As usual, French’s character work is unbelievably strong. Ryan is a flawed (and, like her other protagonists, an ultimately unreliable) narrator, but he’s real and relatable in a way that’s truly hard to accomplish. French excels at getting you into her characters’ heads, which is ultimately very unsettling, especially since all of her work deals with trauma and sanity and obsession. Ryan’s relationship with Cassie (who is an AWESOME character) was one of the best parts of this book.

The mystery itself is very strong and definitely kept me guessing (I had my suspicions about the perp, but French is a master at the misdirect and the hidden motive). This was probably the scariest of the four books, and has the same kind of semi-supernatural slant that appears in Broken Harbor. 

My biggest problem with this book is the ending. I found it pretty unsatisfying and really frustrating. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t discuss it in-depth, but French left us with a lot of lose ends that don’t get resolved, and I felt kind of cheated when I finished the last page. I still loved the book overall, though, and wouldn’t tell someone not to read it just because of the ending.

Should You Read It? If you like complex, well-written mysteries, YES (just be prepared to not want to do anything but read until you’ve finished the series). However, if you’re someone who likes their endings to be neat and tidy and clear, you are going to be disappointed. Just keep it in mind!


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