Sunday, July 27, 2008

In the Woods - Tana French

**warning: this may contain spoilers for you; proceed with caution if you still intend to read the book...

In the Woods is the first person narrative of Adam "Rob" Ryan. In 1984 when Rob was a twelve-year-old boy in Knocknaree (near Dublin) he and his friends, Peter and Jamie, went off to play in the woods, like they often did. However, Peter and Jamie never came back. Adam was found clinging desperately to a tree in the woods and not remembering anything.

Twenty years later, Adam is now "Rob" and he's a police detective. As fate would have it, the case involving the death of Katy Devlin falls into his and his partner Cassie's lap. This case has similarities to Rob's own case from 20 years ago. Katy's twelve and her dead body was found at an archaeological site in the woods where Rob's friends disappeared. Rob and Cassie have to investigate Katy's family and the people surrounding them to figure out who killed her and if it had any connection to the case from 20 years ago.

There has been quite a bit of hype surrounding this book, and it won the 2007 Edgar Award for best first novel. So, there are folks out there who think this book is outstanding. I wouldn't put it in that category, but I did like it and think it was good.

My criticisms of the book? For me it was predictable. At one point Rob, who narrates the story, says something about not judging him too harshly because "you fell for it, too." I thought, "no, I really didn't."

I had high hopes that French was going to go against a male/female cliche. So often a male/female partnership ends up with the two people sleeping together. In this book, Cassie and Rob start off as "just friends" and have been several years. And their relationship is such a close and special one. The vast majority of the book they remain that way, and I kept waiting for them to sleep together because that's predictable, but at the same time I was hoping that by the end of the book they would still be "just friends" because quite frankly, that's such a rare thing in novels like this. I wanted French to "go against the grain" instead of being cliche. And I do believe that it definitely could have worked. She didn't, though.

And finally, the book was LONG, too LONG. If a book is moving and the plot is tight, I have no problems with long. I'll read a thousand pages under those circumstances. But French had a tendency to be verbose. She often said more than she needed to, and there was a significant amount of redundancy.

Positives? Characterization, definitely! All the characters were multi-dimensional, very dynamic. It's my hope that French's intention was for the reader to dislike Rob by the end of the book. I definitely did. Cassie was my favorite character. She was a young female in a male-dominated police department. She was criticized because of how she was assigned to the department, but she did earn her keep. She was spunky and smart and witty. Definitely a likable character.

I listened to this book on audio. The reader was very good, but again, it was long - 18 sound discs. I am glad I listened, and I will pursue other books by French in the future. It is my understanding that her next book is written from the perspective of Cassie, so that definitely interests me. Maybe she'll pull the writing a little tighter on this go round...


Anonymous July 29, 2008 at 10:39 PM  

Thanks for visiting my site! It was nice to meet you through July Book Blowout. I love your blog's graphic and motto.

I've found that even shorter books that don't move can feel really long. That's just not good, especially in the midst of a reading challenge. :)

The Young Professional September 10, 2008 at 9:53 AM  

I just finished reading this book and I am sad to say I was greatly disappointed. I felt like the Knocknarnee mystery was the main reason to pull in the readers and the author left their hunger unsatisfied. The book spent way too much time identifying with the relationship between Cassie and Rob only to leave us disappointed yet again in the end with their relationship. The killer was obvious and it seemed ridiculous that the killer (being as good natured as he was) could elude two semi-seasoned detectives for so long. The mastermind killer seemed thrown together and her motive for conspiracy too cliche. Besides the few moments in the book where actual progress is made we waste our time with this "Move the Motorway" Assassin possibility while the entire time the reader knows it is completely unlikely and a total waste of time. The main character "Rob" is likeable in the beginning but after making no progress, being spineless, and his screw ups make him a character that I will not mourn. Even his apology in the end for all of his mistakes seems too little too late.

Anonymous June 3, 2009 at 1:30 PM  

I agree with everything that was posted about this book - it was verbose which made it waaaaay too long (I also enjoy a good, long book as long as it is enjoyable), the plot line was predictable, Rob went from likeable even though I pitied him to wimpy b/c he decided not to control the things that he very well could, and worst of all, what happened to Peter and Jamie?! After reading the jacket this was the crime that I was most interested in and still have no idea what happened to the little children and feel just weird about the few tangents about large birds with voices and shrieking dog/fox/wolf mixes. This book was picked for a book club that I recently joined and I am hoping that talking about this book will shed some light on the parts I disliked, which was actually most of the book.

It's Always Pink! June 14, 2009 at 1:04 AM  

I just finished reading In the Woods, and I am not satisfied with the ending. I agree it was too long, but I really wanted to know about Peter and Jaime. Will we ever know?

Linda June 15, 2009 at 12:19 AM  

I actually enjoyed the book and her writing. I don't think it was a literary masterpiece but it definitely held my interest. I agree that the outcome was predictable and I was hoping for more. I'm also feel totally robbed of the Peter/Jamie story! Why did she build that up so much??

Anonymous July 31, 2009 at 4:37 PM  

Just finished reading this book. I feel so strange about it because I really enjoyed it all the way to the end, and then my feelings changed, and I became dissapointed in it. Loved the parter relationship between Ryan and Maddox, it was something I envied, until it went to hell.

Why didn't she finish it though? What was so wrong with giving an actual ending to the dissapearance of Jamie and Peter? Why give so many meaningless details only to leave to simply leave the plotline and walk away?

Don't get me wrong, I did like the book, and will probably end up reading the likeness, however, French had me so built up and then left me hanging there with no answers.

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 9:09 AM  

AM I the only one to think that the object the workman found at the end of the book implied that there was an ancient creature that haunts the woods? Half-man/half-stag. That's what the children encountered and it so terrified Adam that his brain won't let him remember what he saw. Does anyone else think so?

Anonymous August 23, 2009 at 10:14 PM  

I respectfully disagree. I'm not really one for crime fiction, but the book piqued my interest and held it. I WAS really pissed that the author didn't reveal what happened to Jamie and Peter, but I think this author knows what she's doing. On page 319, when Ryan is just figuring out about the trowel and asking who has keys to the finds shed, Hunt mentions an Edward VI base penny was found. I can't remember where, but that was mentioned somewhere earlier, being found under someone's dresser. That and all the mentions about the weird, scary creature in the woods makes me think that French gave us enough clues for the reader to figure it out. This book definitely deserves a re-read.

Jen Forbus August 24, 2009 at 6:02 AM  

Anonymous, I'm very glad you enjoyed the book. That's why there is such a appease everyone's taste. I also agree that French knew what she was doing. I would hope that most any published author knows what his/her plot is supposed to do, and if not, the publisher should stop it from seeing print. However, after listening to interviews and comments French has made on this book, the Jamie/Peter mystery is NOT supposed to be solved. I, personally, didn't have a problem with that as it is far more realistic that a cold case that old would NOT be solved. Many readers were left feeling robbed and that may result in French solving the case in another book some day, but it isn't meant to be solved in this one. My issues with this book were more its predictability, its unnecessarily length, etc. I have a huge TBR stack, so rereading something I felt was at best mediocre isn't going to be high on the priority list. But again, that's why there are different books for different folks. Happy Reading!

Unknown August 30, 2009 at 7:37 PM  

I couldn't put the book down. Definitely saw Rosalind coming, but the rest was great for me. Re: Jamie and Peter: Could the killer be Adam/Rob?
-He didn't want anything to change (the summer was horrible until he heard Jamie was staying, and then they were jubilant);
- he repeatedly admits he lies
- he says he was bigger than those two
- he was trusted by them. Knew the woods and river well
- He notes that nowadays, we know that 12 year olds can do bad crimes
- He indicates that most people who get away with murder just go on with their lives.
- There is an insinuation that Cassie gets some information from the living detective on the case that indicates that the other detective (McCabe) had theories he couldn't prove, and she doesn't want to go into those.
- The amount of time Adam/Rob spends looking at the object found at the site when the road goes in.
- the fact that he goes back to the site where the road is being put in and asks the crew about bones

Sorry, no time to pull the direct quotes, but just want to see if anyone thinks its possible.

Mindless Blather September 8, 2009 at 8:56 AM  

Aaaarrrrgggghhh. I took this book on a 7 day backpack trip in Wyoming and still feel the physical and mental anguish the additional weight provided. I was so disniterested in the "final outcome" that I wasn't even offended that the incident of 20 years ago was unrelated and unesolved. Nor did I even glance at the prelude to Ms. French's next offering. I was just relieved to be rid of this 400 page plus burden. Why would a female author choose a first person male narrative? The "protagonist" was a lumbering male cliche. She took great care in describing even the most mundane of events through his narrative (ie the delicate manner in which Ryan would pick up a piece of paper, look at the sky or stub out a cigarette) yet turned him into the classic male cretin, completely devoid of any emotional capacity 3/4's of the way through the already tortured story-line. The "twists" were transparent (as well as cliche) and that the Rob/Andrew Ryan connection was never made utterly presposterous.
I am stunned this book was published let alone an award winner. I felt the same tricked feeling upon it's completion I did when watching M. Shamaylon Knoght's "The Village". Both utterly preposterous, cliche and unrewarding.

Anonymous October 7, 2009 at 11:03 AM  

I just finished reading this book and I really enjoyed it. I couldn't put it down either. I think it's a good read and also a good thriller book. However I agree with you guys because it's kind of disappointing at the end. I was starting to wonder if I was going to know what happened to Peter and Jamie all the time but sadly I had a little feeling that we weren't going to know, I got to the last chapter and read it, unfortunately that's where I knew I was right...

IN THE WOODS is a long book, but does not fall for the easy solution of providing more bodies to help the detectives solve the crime, and sustains a high level of relentless tension throughout. In fact, the villain is easy for the seasoned reader to identify, but even so this does not matter, as the way in which the case is solved is chillingly suspenseful, and the writing style superb.

The conclusion of the case is pretty downbeat. It is always hard to review crime fiction books in much detail without giving the game away, but almost everyone ends up being disappointed in some way; even though the case of the young girl is solved in the sense of the murderer being identified, the story surrounding her death is genuinely creepy. I was so sorry and disappointed that the older mystery was left in the way that it was, but I hope we find out more if Rob Ryan returns in future. I'd be disappointed not to find out any more about Rob.

But the question is, what happened to Peter and Jamie? Will we ever know? But yeah, I agree with you guys, there are some clues there and maybe the French left those there to figure it out.
- The object the workman found at the end of the book.
- Mentions about an Edward VI base penny was found and stuff.
- Some persons, Rob included, mention they heard something like a creature in the woods, and large birds with voices and shrieking dog/fox/wolf mixes etc
- Rob/Adam could be the killer. I agree on what jaye said above. I though about it all the time "What if adam was the killer?" He is so terrified and everything that has refused to remember or to think anything about that day so his mind is full closed to that now.
Yes, I also think it could be possible.

I'm sure there are more clues out there.

To sum up, I really liked the book and it's a very good one but once you have read it you want to know more about the first case, you expected to know about it since he beginning so you feel like empty when you turn the last page and there isn't anything else because it's the end. No answers...

Anonymous October 27, 2009 at 12:41 AM  

If Rob is the killer then how did he only get blood in his shoes and and claw like tears in the back of his shirt. No I think Tana just wanted us to seculate without ever giving us a specific answer...but im glad im done with the book now i can move on to something more exciting...Poe would be rolling in his gave if he knew Tana got this award for her book.

Melissa October 30, 2009 at 4:26 PM  

I just finished the book and thought it was an interesting read. I will agree that French does not do a great job of moving the plot along, but her characterization is fantastic. She created real people in my opinion.

I think that the focus of Rob's general demise as a functional adult was the main clue that he killed Peter and Jamie. Rob's whole point that people can do terrible things like commit murder and then lead a normal, stable life without any regret or impediment to their lives seemed contradicted by Katy's case. I think Katy's case resonated too closely to memories pushed aside by Rob and he couldn't ignore the truth any longer. I think his breakdown was inevitable. If it wasn't Katy's murder it was going to be someone else's that would push him over the edge.

Although I felt that Ryan was the killer, I was supremely let down that it wasn't a tighter insinuation. I thought it was too vague and cryptic and if you're a writer and you're going to give your readers clues without fully giving the answer, then I think you should be a little more obvious. It didn't make sense. What were those sounds when Sandra was getting raped? Was French alluding that the kids may have been killed in the castle and left there? We never heard about the castle afterwards. Did it get demolished when the motorway came in? What about the discrepancy when Rob's mother said Rob was the nice guy but Rob remembered Peter being the nice guy? I was frustrated at the multiple suggestions, but nothing really came together. It was all a mish mash of suggestions.

Anonymous November 2, 2009 at 6:48 PM  

I just finished the book, and was a little disappointed in the end. I wondered if French never said what happened to Jamie and Peter because so often the people close to those who go missing never know what happened to their loved ones. I was a little confused by some things as well, like the references to some sort of animal in the woods, and the finding of the "arrowhead" at the end of the book. Was that what ripped Adam's shirt when he went missing? The Rosalind thing was obvious I thought, but why did Ryan say remember "I told you that I lie", I don't think of him as being a liar, a coward at times, but not a liar. I was upset with him and Cassie and just wanted him to try to fix things, but couldn't understand why he never tried. I know he was messed up, are we to think he has some psychopathic tendencies as well? He doesn't seem to regard people's feelings or have any close relationships that he doesn't sabotage in some way.

Anonymous November 16, 2009 at 7:14 PM  

What about the other blood found by Katie's body?The type matched the blood found in Ryan's shoes.

Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 10:38 PM  

I think that when Rob was so surprised by the fact that Rosalind was behind her sister's murder suggests that he was in fact the murderer of Jamie and Peter. He didn't want to believe that someone so seemingly innocent could play a part in such a horrible crime. Similarly, he always took for granted that he was innocent in the disappearance of Peter and Jamie. The only time he starts to realize he could have been involved is right as the Devlin case begins to unfold. I think it's an interesting parallel. Maybe he was also a child murderer and that is why he was somehow blinded to Rosalind's guilt. I'm not sure if there is enough evidence to support this, but I do think it would be ironic. Whoever said that French gave us all the clues but that we just need to reread the book is probably right in my opinion.

Unknown December 7, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

Wow, I'm really interested in your guys' thoughts on Rob being the murderer! Very intriguing. I too was very frustrated, even angry at the way it ended, but I did find this interesting tid-bit from an interview with Tana French:

"Q. We don't want to give anything away, but the ending of In the Woods leaves a pretty humongous loose end still dangling. Is there any chance of a sequel that will tell us whether Rob Ryan solves the great remaining mystery of the story?

I'm currently working on a second book, which is linked to In the Woods without being exactly a sequel. The new book is told from Cassie Maddox's point of view, and it takes places six months after the events of In the Woods. I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still not sure how it's going to end. All I can say is that I'm not done with Rob Ryan."

Jen December 29, 2009 at 3:56 PM  

In agreement with much of the above. I really, really wanted Ryan to discover that he killed Jamie and Peter. Maybe in my own imaginings, he did. It would be excellent if we could know, for certain, one day.

Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM  

If Ryan killed Peter and Jamie, where were the bodies??? I think the wild animal theory is more likely since the bodies would be less likely to be found. Maybe he suppressed the memory because he had witnessed them being killed and was too cowardly to jump in and try and save them.

Anonymous January 27, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

I really love everybody's opinions here. I am still torn between the two theories (Ryan being the killer or the animal/wolf thing)

*remember Cassie had a story about some Wolf like creature that was supposed to be a joke, but then they saw something when she was younger?

Also, something that intrigued me in the book that I'm not sure was answered. The name of the guy Cassie dated in college, who was a pschyopath, was Legion. Legion means the devil of a follower of the devil. Didn't anyone find that either too obvious, or was that supposed to come back up in either Rosiland or Ryan? Or was Cassie being extremely sarcastic when she said it?


Lady Liz March 25, 2010 at 10:21 AM  

I'm so glad I wasn't the only one let down by the ending and it is so enlightening to read other people's opinions here! I was in love with this book until about 8 hours ago, after I had spent every spare minute reading it and found myself staring at the author acknowledgements in the back without any clue as to what happened to Peter/Jamie/Adam--which as others have pointed out was set up to be the novel's overarching mystery.
I guess my main problem with the book is that French was trying to make it something it truly is not. It is a page-turner, vividly written, but although it does present a slightly more realistic picture of crime-solving, it's still a police procedural. Like a particularly thrilling Law & Order, with better characters. I got the feeling that--as Rob began to break down and writing became more disjointed and florid, all the clues to the Peter/Jamie/Adam mystery led nowhere, and crazy Rosalind got off scot free--French was trying to play Faulkner or somebody, to imbue the book with Deep Meaning, to try and turn it into something like realism.
Well it isn't straight realism--it's a cop novel. The writing was good, but not THAT good. It just didn't work. The massive pile of loose ends should have wrapped up more tightly (and yes, it should have been shorter!!), even if the author does want to continue into a sequel. Leaving so many clues with no resolution smacks of an author who is writing without understanding--trying too hard.
And I agree with Victoria. I didn't fall for Rosalind either and was annoyed at Rob for doing so--and for assuming that I was as dumb as he was.
All that said, though--the author CAN redeem this book through a well written sequel. And I know I'll read it anyway--I'm a sucker for mysteries!

Ang April 11, 2010 at 2:22 AM  

I LOVED this book...until the very end. I have never been so frustrated! I cared the most about the 1984 story and "put up with" the modern day one just to find out the answer to the cold case! I knew Rosalind was evil from the start, and as soon as she "forced" Jessica to give the "blue track suit" story to Ryan I KNEW FOR SURE that her and Damien were in on it together. A lot of it just seemed so pointless (Ryans mom claiming that he was the one that ended the bullying and not Peter)...lot of so called clues with no resolution! Even Katy's murder turned out to be frustrating (Damien, who is probably not a threat to flea ever again gets locked away, and the true danger, Rosalind gets off the hook). And then there's Rob, first of all the whole "before you judge me, remember she fooled you too" line was just pathetic! I don't think Rosalind fooled anyone. As soon as I read that I thought, "no she didn't you idiot!". The one person I loved in the book was Cassie. I thought she was great...but also thought it was a little unrealistic that she is the only person on the case who understands the definition of a psychopath and knows what profiling is. When I read a book I usually get really "involved" I get attached to the characters and I care about the story and to have such a HUGE let down in the end is just so disturbing and makes me wish I had NEVER read it in the first place!

Christopher Louderback April 16, 2010 at 2:05 PM  

I am leaning towards the theory that Ryan did, indeed, kill Peter and Jamie. The part of French's story that lends itself most to Ryan being the killer isn't so much the clues she gives us along the way, but more in how easily Ryan identifies with Rosalind, feels for her even, never quite seems disgusted with her so much as with himself for not realizing who she really was.

I would go as far as to say Tana French wanted us to feel insulted by Ryan's assumption that we believed Rosalind, too. It makes the whole story work. Cassie never ruled Rosalind out, we never ruled Rosalind out. Only Ryan did. I think that Ryan empathized with Roslaind. He may not be aware of his own past, but as good as a detective as he is (and French proves this throughout the novel) he never sees what is right in front of him. If you read back over the novel, he is almost acting as Rosalind's protector from the very beginning. It isn't that big of a leap to see that Ryan is protecting himself at the same time. Somewhere, in the deepest part of his memory, he knows he killed Jamie and Peter.

Further, Ryan never sympathizes for Damien who actually killed Katy. He even talks about not being able to feel sorry for Damien. Why do you think this is? I think this is the part of him that knows he is capable of what Damien did, the part of what he did himself that he can never forgive. At the same time, he despises Damien not for exposing Rosalind, but for what he represents: Ryan's own inability to see not only Rosalind for what she is, but more importantly to see himself for what he is.

French is smart to have Ryan tell us multiple times throughout the novel that he is guilty of killing his friends. He never says it, but he makes sure from the very beginning to tell us he is a liar. This doesn't mean he goes around lying to everyone (though he does in some cases), but that he is actually living a lie. He is lying about who he is, living his life as someone else, and he is lying to himself about what he did.

In short, Ryan did to us what Rosalind did to him. Even now, we can't quite admit that Ryan killed his friends. Why? Why does French need to sum it all up and put it in order for us? Should we believe a wild, half-man, half-beast creature killed his friends over the obvious, realistic possibility that Ryan killed them? The question French leaves us with proves the first part of this paragraph. Ryan, maybe not as diabolically, gained our trust and disbelief that he could have done something terrible to Peter and Jamie the same way Rosalind gained his regarding Katy.

I hope, too, that French will explore Ryan's story in another book, but if she doesn't I am quite content with the way she ended The Woods.

I plan to buy The Likeness today.

Anonymous April 20, 2010 at 10:52 PM  

Like everyone else I am also frustrated about the end. I was wondering why nobody had dug under the stone where they found Katy. Thats where they found blood and Jamie's hair barrett. I would also had been hard to tell if the ground had been dug up. I don't think that Ryan/Adam did it because if you read the prolouge it says that someone was waiting for the children by the river. Also why would he have killed them. This was a good book, I liked the double murder, except the ending was terrible. Actully one of the reasons it was bad was it was an excuting story that didn't have the exciting ending it should have had. Where did he lie? And I wasn't fooled did she really think we would be?

Anonymous April 25, 2010 at 12:29 AM  

Hi all! Just finished In th Woods and must say it had its pros and cons but generally, I loved it. I made an honest effort from the start to put no effort into figuring it out (in order to avoid disappointment when it ends other than i'd like) and simply enjoy it. The ending didn't leave me with warm fuzzies and I found that oddly refreshing. Few of the story lines ended the way one would hope and I can totally relate to that!
I do think it severely unfortunate that he finaly worked up the "bollocks" to try and remember and it hindered instead of helping but hey, sometimes life aint fair.
I agree that the references to the weird bird noises and glowing yellow eyes seemed a bit out of place BUT I chalked it up to grief and stress doing weird things to peoples minds.
Every book i've read lately has been traditional (intro, story line, climax, perfect resolution) to the point of boredom. This book was exactly what I needed!

Anonymous May 20, 2010 at 11:07 PM  

I was really into the "clues" she gave of the fox outside Rob's room, the laughter in the trees after Sandra was raped, the "animal" that crossed in front of Cassie and Rob's car. These all made me think it was some kind of animal, maybe a bear and that was why they never found Peter or Jamie? I can't think of anything. This book was so good but it has infuriated me to and extreme.

ricola September 15, 2010 at 10:57 PM  

Just finished this book, which I picked up in a thrift shop for a dollar. I was hooked upon reading the first pages in the shop and could not put it down most of the time.
I agree that the characters were brilliant and the the writing was a little excessive but it made for an excellent subway companion. I did not pick up on the Rosalind thing, but did catch on to the possibility that Rob did indeed have a role to play. Still, if he did why would he go on about being the one not good enough to kill, the one left behind?

Anonymous October 18, 2010 at 12:37 PM  

Ryan is a psychopath, like Roselind and like the guy Cassie knew in college. He is telling us the readers what he wants us to know. He is dramatic often and Cassie is obsessed with making him feel better. He lies, he rarely helps others, he also does not connect with his parents. He killed his friends in those woods and had plenty of time to get rid of them, toward the end of the book we read he was huge for his age, he was in love with Jaime. Also when he is in the woods attempting to remember we see his sort of drifting and giving us the illusion that he loses control and consciousness and doesn't know what he does, like blackouts. The most obvious clue to him being a psychopath was asking Cassie if he could sleep in her bed after his crying fit - using her then disposing of her friendship so easily. Also when his roomate tells the reader that she too did not deserve to be treated the way he treated Cassie - we learn she is Not Just his roommate. We will learn later I suspect that Ryan is a murderer.

Unknown November 14, 2010 at 11:24 PM  

The narrator, Ryan, may have been a psychopath, and French was giving us a glimpse of how they think. He played with us by giving us clues on what he did, built up our trust, then discarded us when he no longer was interested.

Rosalind's fascination with him (did she think about the two kids and realize something?).

Johnathan heard someone in the woods who "sounded like one of us", then Ryan later admitting he WAS as big as them.

The scratches in his shirt, did he remember how he used the artifact with the sharp point?

Did he become of cop to monitor the information on the case?

youngheartsparkfire November 15, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

I really like Christopher Louderback's comment and analysis about the story, it seems to make a whole lot of sense to me.

However, just to mention it, am I the only one that finds all the bizarre supernatural references in the book to be a little reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft or Steven King?

I have to admit that the incidents pointing to an unspeakable-horror type of creature got me hooked, and I was definitely disappointed that nobody (in the book, I mean) made much noise about it.

- claw marks on Ryan's back
- all the noises/inhuman sounds/super bad vibes experienced by the people involved in Sandra's rape (Sandra included)
- the ancient altar rock that Katy was found dead on
- the pure, 100% unfiltered evil of Rosalind's mind
- the piece of arrowhead given to Ryan (for a short while) with a figure of a man with antlers...

...half-man? Devil? I don't know, but I felt there was some really major Cthulhu shit going on in that book, and it all came to nothing.

Of course, if we accept that Ryan is psychologically damaged and completely unreliable as a narrator, then we are doomed to speculation - anything goes.

Gail Churchill November 23, 2010 at 7:58 PM  

Finished it this afternoon.

Ryan drank alot. There was alot of detail about this.

I recall a statement early on when he went to get the evidence box about the 1st crime, to the effect, I hadn't seen this stuff since the time of the initial child disappearances. . .Later, it occurred to me that he was the murderer,and the whole book was about the failure of the archeological dig to locate the bones or evidence of the earlier crime. . .In some ways the boss in the murder unit had his head in the sand. . .

Ryan and Cassie's relationship was strange. . .so did they have sex at least once? Yes. Cassie had alot of insight (or questions about or reservations throughout) into his behavior. . .This ended up saving her from him, in the end. I wish now I had compiled a list of the curious aspects of this relationship.

Were there blocks of time in Ryan's life that were not accounted for? 2 years on the dole living alone? what is this? could someone like this really end up in a responsible position on the Dublin police force?

Ryan was always the odd man out. With Jamie and Peter. With Cassie and Sam.

I read the book, some parts very quickly so I may have missed some nuance. . .it was competing with Monday night football after a long day. . .but I enjoyed it. Had never heard of French. More and more I like European novelists. . ..

Anonymous December 14, 2010 at 8:49 PM  

I can't find the only paragraph in the book whose phrasing I would care to remember - a bit about how moral goodness is often mistakenly attributed to things that have
good outcomes for a person. That one paragraph was worth reading - the rest of the book dragged like a lead rock, left its lead in mystery unsolved, and would not interest people that don't identify with whiskey in coffee drinking loosers. Please find me the page of that redeeming paragraph that had a real idea about human nature.

Anonymous December 23, 2010 at 5:47 AM  

The first half of the book was great. The setup was fantastic. We had two mysteries and at one point Rob was shown to be an unreliable narrator after his mother exposes one of his memories to be false with the roles reversed. It really made the wonder if he was innocent in his friend's disappearances or not. Also his myriad of extreme emotions at odd times set Rob up to possibly be more than simply a victim of trauma.

Then the last half happened. Rob's sudden interest in the missing trowel seemed like it was forced in as a way to speed things up so we can get to the killer, Rob has a dream where he almost finds out what may have happened to him and his friends that ended with what read like a bad drug trip, and then the incredibly cynical public reaction to Rosalind and everyone and their mother thinking she's just an innocent pawn the police just so happened to setup. I can see her mother and father going along with it, but everyone else, with no shred of doubt? Please.

I stayed up to read the last 80 pages and am very sorry I did so. The tag that got me to buy the book, a kid with blood in his shoes, was never explored. Marketing ploy worked, I bought it, but to leave the readers with a double whammy, the real killer gets away with it and ends up with everything she ever wanted and never finding even hints and what could have happened in the woods that night the kids disappeared, I now know better than to buy any other book from this author.

Michelle Walters January 25, 2011 at 9:32 PM  

Dug it. No pun intended.

Anonymous June 3, 2011 at 4:24 AM  

Your first novel, In the Woods, focuses on a troubled cop named Rob Ryan. That novel left readers with some unsolved questions, and I’m curious: Are you going to go back one day to Rob?

I’d really like to. I’m hoping to keep writing about the same general bunch of main characters for a while. I’ve got interested in them!

Tristan Thielbar August 10, 2011 at 1:55 PM  

I have just finshed In The Woods and while i write this comment I am in a libary checking out the likeness, I enjoyed the book but with most books of the same lengh it takes me a few days if to read in the wooks took me almost two weeks, too long... I was not surprized when Cassie and Rob hooked up however i was sad when i realized it wouldn't last.

Barbara November 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM  

I thought this was an excellent mystery/story. The characterization was fantastic, the story remained taut throughout, and most elements were surprising (except for crazy Rosalind - I thought it was obvious she was wacked out).

It was a bit disappointing to realize that we'd never know what happened to Rob/Adam, Jamie and Peter, but it made sense. Rob will never have closure and neither will we. It's realistic: not everything gets resolved in life. Also, the fact that it was never resolved help give key insight into Rob's character and what he'd lived with for almost all his life. It also explained how he could have blown his relationship with Cassie, whom he clearly loved.

Anyway, to each his own. I thought it was a very satisfying book.

Anonymous November 11, 2011 at 2:30 AM  

Rob is clearly the killer of his mates. He tells you in the beginning , clearly, he is an unrealiable narrator (" I lie, its wat I do") and as French (brilliantly) bubbles up support actors in succesive books, the evidence is ALL there as well. Plus, Much hey is made by Cassie being fooled by a psychpath and there are a few telling moments when she realizes Rob is just such an animal. I thought the book(s) were quite amazing.

Mary December 30, 2011 at 8:06 PM  

I was completely frustrated with the end of this book (I stayed up almost all night to finish!). I felt cheated. Like many others, that's the mystery that pulled me into the book. I didn't dislike Rob Ryan. I understood he was fraught with unresolved issues from his childhood trauma. I read an interview with Tana French after finishing the book which helped immensely. She explained why Rob deliberately sabotaged his relationship with Cassie and Sam in the end--it was all he knew to do because he had, as an adult, transferred their relationship into his childhood relationship with Peter and Jamie and that relationship didn't last so the adult relationship would not last either. His childhood trauma was destined always to make him not completely trust anyone or to love anyone. It robbed him of his closeness with his parents. Today, we'd have that child in therapy but in some cultures it is customary to pretend nothing ever happened and things will go back to normal eventually. Rob was flawed but human. He could not be perfect and it was inevitable going back to Knocknaree would bring back enough memories to make him crack mentally, which it did. I really wish Tana French revisits Rob Ryan and lets us know what happened in those woods 20 years ago. I've read some readers state they think Rob killed his friends because he was big. I don't see that. What I saw was a chubby kid who couldn't keep up with his friends as they scrambled over walls when they made their pact to keep Jamie from going to boarding school and that was probably what saved his life. The loosening of the shoe laces just started to explain how his shoes came off while Rob/Adam was running to keep up. Then the memory fades and he's too scared to revisit it to finish it. Rob's mother attributing a good deed to him that he remembered Peter doing indicates Rob did not view himself as a good person. In some way, like his parents, he felt guilty he had survived and continually punished himself and felt he was not worthy of survival--harkening to the "why did I survive" syndrome. Rob needs psychotherapy but his character I think, in the end, didn't really want to remember what happened to his friends. Rob is afraid of what he will see if he remembers. He asked the workman at the end if they found any bones--I think that was not an admission of guilt but looking for some kind of closure. That scene let us know that whatever happened to Peter and Jamie, they were not buried in the wood.

Anonymous May 20, 2012 at 12:02 PM  

It's been a long time since this review was posted, but since a new comment still seems to appear every few months, I feel OK about commenting on it myself.

I think that there's a tendency to theorize about psychopathy by people who don't know much about it... but before we attribute psychopathy to Rob Ryan, it's probably good to remember that Cassie knows plenty about the topic. Her strangeness about it, and about her discussions with him, does not have to do with a realization that he is one... if he had been, she's the one character who would have picked up on it much earlier; the story is set up that way. (She picks up on it with Cathal immediately after meeting him.) The strangeness related to Rob and psychopathy is that Cassie understands that a psychopath is involved in the Katy Devlin case, Rob does not grasp or understand it, and Cassie knows that Rob is being manipulated (something that's proven when she interrogates Rosalind and it comes out that Rosalind has known for some time that Rob is Adam: her manipulation is not just related to him being a sympathetic cop). Rosalind's successful manipulation of Rob, combined with the way he's already falling apart, is what sets up the situation that enables her to get out of the murder charge. And Rob's comments about lying have a lot to do with the fact that detectives are involved in pretexting (for example, the story set up for when Cassie tries to trap Rosalind into a confession)... not about him personally being a callous pathological liar. Also, if we grab onto the "Rob is a liar and therefore a psychopath" interpretation... he's an unreliable narrator, so why do we believe anything he says about Cassie, or about feeling the presence of evil when Damien describes what Rosalind put him through--i.e., the things we want to believe as readers? Take that interpretation far enough, and the "boarding school" Rob went to as a teenager becomes a psychiatric hospital, and this case happens entirely in his mind. (I'm not seriously advocating this; I'm just pointing out that the "Rob as a psychopath" theory has some enormous holes in it, and the fact that he's an unreliable narrator shouldn't be leaned on too heavily.)

I think Mary has it spot on. I think we're supposed to entertain and reject the notion that Rob was the killer of Peter and Jamie, because he probably entertains that notion from time to time himself, out of guilt... but his guilt is almost certainly survivor's guilt. We don't get narrative closure, because the book is actually about his trauma, his relationship with Cassie, and the way the investigation into Katy's murder derails him personally and professionally. He's not a high-functioning person at the best of times. The details of both mysteries are secondary. I'd argue that the bait and switch is not that readers can go in thinking that they're getting a book about the Peter and Jamie case and instead get the Katy Devlin case; it's that they think they're getting a suspense novel at all, when they're actually getting the narrator's psychological breakdown with two murder cases as the catalysts.

Anonymous May 20, 2012 at 12:04 PM  


On the other hand, I do hope we're not supposed to seriously entertain the idea that a large wild animal killed and ate Peter and Jamie. It might be just possible, but the problem there for me is that wild animals aren't interested in concealing their "crimes." There would have been a good chance of evidence being left, but more importantly, there would have been further disappearances... the estate was full of pet dogs! The fact that clues related to Jamie are found with Katy's body would be a good reason for Rob to ask the workmen tearing up that area at the end of the book if they'd found any bones; it doesn't necessarily indicate that he's guilty.

My best theory: If a human in the book is responsible, it's probably Cathal, maybe with Shane's help. (I believed Jonathan when he said "they" weren't involved, but only about his own involvement; Cassie never suggests that Jonathan is also a psychopath.) If not Cathal, it was a character who's never onstage. The bodies were probably disposed of in the river. Beyond that, I think it's intentionally left up in the air.

Anonymous July 5, 2012 at 12:34 PM  

I certainly wondered that as well. And perhaps that is also why he wouldn't let himself be happy with Cassie.

bethannhayes July 9, 2012 at 9:14 AM  

I was so mad at the end of this book. Yeah, great writer, but come on! The whole reason I kept reading it, especially after figuring out whodunit very early on was to find out what happened in the older crime! That, to me, was major vein of the book and then to have him never remember? That sucks! This was my first read by this author and I don't think I'll read any more works due to the total let down cause by leaving that part of the story so unresolved.

Anonymous December 27, 2012 at 12:46 AM  

I just figured that since others are commenting after a period of monthly gaps, I would do the same. I just finished the novel last night and found it to be both entertaining, but, at the same time, disappointing.

French excels with character dimensions and development. People such as Cassie, Rosalind, and Rob are very believable characters. In today's society, it is obvious that a fairy tale ending does not always occur.

Rob was unable to hold a relationship with both Sam and Cassie because he failed at doing so with Peter and Jamie. His life is defined by heartbreak and confusion (since the age of twelve) and it only makes sense that he will have serious flaws when it comes to trusting someone like Cassie.

My interpretation on Rob being the murderer follows what Verbminx said. I do not believe that Rob is the killer. I believe that when he said that he was a liar, he was referring to the demands of his job. This is seen later when the police force sets up the wire gig with Rosalind and Cassie. Rob is certainly suffering from the survivor's guilt and when he asked the man when the road was going in on whether human bones were found, I believe that Rob was attempting to get some closure.

Also, With that said, I believe that Rob is not a psycopath. Imagine having your childhood torn away from you. Now imagine trying to live a 'normal' life and have a normal relationship with someone when you have trust issues.

Rob will never be able to have a serious relationship until he conquers his inner demons. Thus, in the "Likeness", (SPOILER ALERT)I seriously hated (HATED) how Cassie accepted the marriage proposal. Days before, she was calling Rob just to "Hear his voice" and was on the fast track to a mental breakdown. Also, she repeatedly states how Sam is suffocating and in my opinion, annoying. For her to accept the marriage proposal makes me sick.

Back to "In the Woods"

Also, the page where Rob mentions how he called Cassie early in the morning to profess his love, was heart-wrenching. Cassie means so much to him, it is readily obvious. And I hope French touches on their relationship one day in the future because there is a section of text in which Rob says that Cassie is essentially his solace in an otherwise bleak world.Their Story Mustn't end.

Lastly, Peter and Jamie. I honestly have no idea what could have happened. But I believe Rob needs to find out if he is ever to be able to lead a normal, LOVING life.

Unknown November 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM  

After reading some of the other comments, I have also come to believe that Rob/Adam may be the killer. First, there are those mysterious migraines. Maybe it is a sign of some sort of brain damage. Next, I believe his parents were afraid of him. They may not know why exactly, but I believe that is why he was sent to boarding school. Another thing was Cassie's conversation with the retired detective; something ominous was revealed there. Rob may not even be aware of his behavior that day in the woods. I tend to think it's a brain damage situation that renders him with no memory. Perhaps he will "go off" again and commit another heinous crime.

Anonymous July 9, 2014 at 8:41 PM  

I just finished reading this book after picking it up on a business trip and having high hopes from the Edgar Award. I have very little time to read so I fit it in wherever I could and I was SO very disappointed at the end. The characters were Hollywood-predictable and the language was not great. The only thing that did it was the plot and the ending was awful. I'm so upset for having wasted so much time reading it.

Unknown August 16, 2014 at 7:25 PM  

I don't know about you all, but I really did feel sorry for Rob at the end. He got caught up in a series of events that broke him so much that he couldn't recover from it. It's heartbreaking how thoroughly he got trashed, honestly.

Bitcetc November 20, 2014 at 3:13 PM  

Yes, and there were a couple of Rob's remarks to the reader, specifically about his lying, that made me come away with this as my favorite one of three possible solutions. I re-read most of the book almost immediately, and could not eliminate Rob/Adam as a suspect based on what is on the page. If this is what French had in mind, she certainly left us with enough dislike of the Rob/Adam character to justify the suspicion.

Something wicked within the woods was also an "alternate" possibility that I liked leaving open. It was intriguing to have the final iconic moment be a reference to something mythological. But those hints could be merged with either the theory of Rob/Adam as the killer, or the more prosaic ones espoused by the detectives on the original case.

Criice November 23, 2014 at 5:11 AM  

Earlier in the book when maddox and ryan were interviewing the old lady she mentioned the "Pooka" and with the other evidence of strange sounds and that ending note of a strange pendent its what i believe French was trying to leave us wit

Charles O. Slavens December 5, 2014 at 6:38 PM  

I read "Faithful Place" and "Broken Harbor" before I got around to
first novel, "Into The Woods". I was very happy to have found her
was looking forward to the novel that started her off. I see that
a movie coming out this month based upon this first effort. What I
interesting is that it isn't until the last one hundred pages that
all this
effort becomes worthwhile - my printing is 429 pages.

Up to that point there are overly long digressions that do nothing
move the story forward.... I tend to skim read sections like this
usually, I've found this to be a useful, time-saving practice.
it was her secondary story which hung in the background and was
just compelling enough to keep me going.

It will be interesting to see why Tinseltown bought into this....
subsequent books adhere more closely to a traditional progressive
story line. I'm hoping that they'll spend a lot of time on those
last 100

Unknown February 9, 2016 at 11:06 AM  

I just read the book. And yes, I agree with you. I think there is an underlying supernatural story in this novel. I believe the woods had some sort of creature, posibly from the faery realm lurking in them. When the detectives interview the elderly woman to find out Sandra's name, she says a phooka took the children.

Anonymous March 27, 2016 at 5:58 AM  

I just finished the book and felt disappointment at the end. My wife wants to read it, and I'm tempted to tell her that the disappearance of the two kids is not resolved at the end so that she can read it more as a character study.

Unknown May 30, 2016 at 1:47 PM  

Just finished the book and thus a late, late commentator. Loved reading everyone's thoughts.

I've given it plenty of thought and can't see Rob as the psychopath. The book has 3 sets of characters in separate groups with: one psychopath, one who starts as subservient to the psycho but finds his own way and one totally subservient character.

In each group the leader is the psychopath and really no psycho is much of a follower.

We're told by Rob's mother that he brought her flowers & stopped bullying. He clearly had a good spirit when young and reads more Jonathan Devlin or Katy. The subservient one who ends up either standing up to the psycho or at least making it good.

I'd bet on Jamie being the psycho. I know this may get backlash but there's signs. She starts the mutiny, is the leader of the pack, does not cry when seriously injured, sees a young woman get raped, is very distant when not getting her way and the final trigger is her possibly being sent away

Unknown May 30, 2016 at 2:17 PM  

2nd part of the comment of this book that I really enjoyed..

Jonathan getting his wife pregnant, Katy's ballet and Cassie's rejection of Legion all save them to some extent from the control of a psychopath.

Rob's chubbiness and love when young for his mom and possibly and encounter with a fox while chasing the other two may have saved him.

I think Peter is more likely than not dead. But Jamie (no blood found) / "it'll never be the same" possibly survives in some way or other.

I think unlike Jonathan and Cassie who have experienced a psychopath, and see it in Roslind, Rob doesn't know as he was somehow saved from he's group's psycho. He's feeling of being the hunted in the woods says he must have witnessed something, possibly Jamie killing Peter and ran. Jamie may have spared him due to the kiss on the cheek.

Lastly, there's obviously Red Foxes in the woods. Their mating call can be bird like... and it would explain four claw mark slashes and Rob seeing it in shadows.

Dave C August 13, 2016 at 2:03 PM  

But what was his motive? These were his best friends. Why would he kill them? Rosalynd hated Katy.

Dave C August 13, 2016 at 2:10 PM  

But what was his motive? These were his best friends. Why would he kill them? Rosalynd hated Katy.

Unknown May 9, 2017 at 12:48 PM  

I just finished last night, I really enjoyed it. I like when I finish a book and the plot is the first thing on my mind in the morning. I love the whole, "could Rob have been the killer" speculation. I don't buy him as just a plain psychopath. I think there was plenty throughout that showed him as caring person, who had a meaningful deep relationship with Cassie. He was just damaged by whatever occurred in his childhood "in the woods". Including, the possibility that HE was the killer. Much speculation has been made about the "bird noise", one thing I noticed was that the people who heard the bird noise were high on acid, pot, and were drinking beer. We get that noise from different perspectives, and the most clear re-telling seemed like it was someone with a high pitched laugh (and the people on Acid just freaked out). So, I am not buying the "animal" "monster" theory. Someone killed those kids, maybe Rob, maybe two of the teen boys, maybe someone else.

Katherine Demenari August 16, 2017 at 9:16 PM  

- I agree with verbminx on a lot of their points; I agree that Rob is defiantly not a psychopath and that Tana French intended us to entertain, then reject, the notion that he killed his friends. Come on, he might have been big for his age, but with fat, not muscle, and no 12 year old, especially in a time without Law and Order, would be able to so perfectly dispose of the bodies. Bodies dumped in rivers don't stay there for long. And if he was such a criminal mastermind, why the blood in his shoes? Seems a bit careless. Also, motive? IF he was a child psychopath, wouldn't he be likely to go at Jamie's mum, for wrecking their lives?
-If he wanted to keep them all from getting older/save them from growing up/apart/whatever, why not kill himself too, then? No, Rob as the killer doesn't add up.
-David, your Jamie theory is fascinating.
- Come on, are you guys so used to mysteries being solved in 50 minuets and shocking last page confessions that an unsolved crime sends you into hissy fits??? That's life. Some things are never solved; life isn't a cop show. Grow up.
- I agree with the idea that this book is more of a psychological story than a typical cop book.
-Am I the only one who didn't catch on to Rosalind that quick?
just thoughts.

Anonymous December 3, 2017 at 2:16 AM  

I was bitterly disappointed by the ending. I thought this would be a break from 'thriller/mystery' tradition and end with some fairy tale kidnapping of the children from whatever weird Irish deity lurked in the woods. I am a fan of the supernatural, not so much for murder mysteries. I read the first page and was hooked by the idea that Adam was trying to get inside the oak tree, presumably because his friends were trapped in there. The whole point of a mystery is to draw the reader on an adventure and come up with a solution that leaves them thinking, "I didn't see that coming."

As beautiful as Tana French's writing is, she didn't know the answer to her own opening mystery. If the solution was too fantastic as a mundane murder, she should have trusted her readers with it. Some may have been upset that it brought in the paranormal, but at least she set up the story for it. Instead, she left me believing that she didn't have the answers and indeed did waste my time.

I came online excited to find her next book so that I could figure out how the story would end only to discover that it won't exist until Tana French figures it out herself...which may be never. A second bitter disappointment.

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