My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Tana French came highly recommended to me, and I am pleased to report that that recommendation spoke truth and wisdom. I initially checked this book out from the library, only to decide partway through that yeah, I wanted to actually own a copy. So I returned the library book and promptly bought my own.
French’s command of language and imagery was part of the initial recommendation, but what also drew me to this book was its being a police procedural-flavored mystery set in Ireland. And then there’s the plot itself: a young boy who was the sole survivor of an assault that caused the disappearances of his two friends has grown up to be a police detective. Rob Ryan’s changed his name and worked hard to groom himself into a more refined persona, doing everything in his power to distance himself from his childhood. But a child has been murdered in his old town, and he and his partner Cassie Maddox are assigned to the case. Ryan must therefore choose between revealing his past and risk being taken off the case–or struggling through his own memories as he and Maddox pursue the girl’s killer.
There’s a great deal to like here. First and foremost I very much respected that Ms. French struck the exact right balance between making her protagonist unreliable and keeping him compelling. Rob is often not a very likeable character; he’s selfish in many ways, and his motives about keeping his past secret are tied more into that than into his desire to bring their young victim justice. He makes multiple bad choices, leading me more than once to want to smack him hard. Yet even so, he was vividly portrayed, and at no point did I not want to know what happened to him next.
Cassie Maddox, his partner and best friend, goes a long way to keeping him in check through most of the plot. The chemistry between them–even when it is still at a platonic level–is excellent. It’s clear that these two are well-matched as partners, each having attributes the other lacks, making the two of them together stronger than each one alone. Yet I cannot mention Cassie without also mentioning the third major character, Sam O’Neill, who works the case with them. Sam’s clearly interested in Cassie, and yet that interest takes second chair to the much more intense relationship she has with Rob. Trust me when I say, too, that Sam’s presence in the plot ultimately proves critical.
The book’s resolution is hard-won, be warned, and our trio of detectives do not come through unscathed. It’s the ending, too, that makes me pull this down to four stars rather than five, just because while I did continue to find Rob a compelling character, in the end I did still want to smack him. Still, though, I very much enjoyed this read. Four stars.
ETA: Correcting the title of the post from Into the Woods to In the Woods. Oops! Thanks,