Book Review: In The Woods by Tana French

Title: In the Woods
Author: Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Published: 2007
Publisher: Viking Adult
Pages: 464
From: Barnes and Noble
Rating: 9/10

It started with a murder, and ended with a murder. Tana French’s debut novel In the Woods took crime novels to a whole new level with the twists and turns in both the crime and the lives of the detectives solving it.

This novel, published in 2007, takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and focuses on the fictitious Murder Squad of the police force.

The two main characters and detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, have a very close relationship that everyone jokes about is sexual behind the scenes. The two take the case of a murdered girl from Knocknaree, the location of another murder that took place twenty years earlier. The case starts slow for Ryan and Maddox, but soon a connection pops up between the two Knocknaree cases and Ryan, a man with a connection of his own to the past murder, begins showing signs of poor health.

While this seems like any normal crime novel beginning, there are plenty of differences between this and the run-of-the-mill mystery. The characters, for one thing, are much more developed and real than any in a crime novel I’ve read before. The storytelling is some of the best I’ve read in recently published novels, and the style of writing is so catching.

French, born in the US, has lived in Malawi, Italy, the US and Ireland, attended college at Trinity College in Dublin. I feel because she has such intimate knowledge of the country she was able to spin a story within Ireland that felt as if you were there alongside the main characters. Ryan and Maddox have such a relationship that is both confusing and common: a close, best-friends relationship between a male and female that could possibly border the sexual but doesn’t. It fits because of their personalities, which French thoroughly outlines throughout the entire novel. The characters develop on their own and together in different ways and in the end are very much changed from when they started. What makes their development seem even more real is that they will stay that way long after the story finishes.

Ryan and Maddox’s developments would not have been nearly as satisfying had it not been for the gritty style of writing French uses in this novel, bordering on Raymond Carver and Tim O’Brien. French’s writing is similar to Carver’s in that it is very dry and mundane, a sign that big words and weighed down description isn’t necessary to tell a story, but on the other hand she uses description and ideas like O’Brien describes music or everyday items in a war-blown landscape.

French uses this writing style to tell a story that gets gritty, dirty, chilling and soul-catching. While sometimes the language does weigh down the scene, overall it lifts it and makes it more memorable.

While this is by no means the greatest book of the century, or the decade for that matter, I find that such a unique novel is well worth the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, and the several other awards it received, and it is most definitely worth a read.

Tana French is the author of four other novels, The Likeness (2008), Faithful Place (2010), Broken Harbor, (2012) and The Secret Place (2014).

For another opinion of Tana French’s debut novel, read The Indiscriminate Critic‘s review here.

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