I’ve mentioned in previous CBR reviews that my sister-in-law is a discerning librarian and when she rates something highly on Goodreads, I automatically add it to my to-read list. That’s how I came across Tana French’s In the Woods, the first of her Dublin Murder Squad novels. Woods has two central mysteries that may or may not be related. Detective Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan was only 12 the afternoon he and his two best friends ran off into the woods on a hot summer day in 1984 to avoid dealing with the fact that one of their trio was being sent away for boarding school soon. Rob was also the only child ever seen again; later that evening he is discovered in the woods, shoes full of blood and hugging a tree with no memory of what happened to him. Decades later, another 12-year-old girl is found dead bordering those same woods and Rob and his partner Cassie are assigned to investigate her death. Are they related this many years later? Will Rob finally find out what happened to him all those years ago?
I quite enjoyed this novel. It does start out a little slow, but once I reached about halfway through the book I found myself staying up way past my bedtime trying to finish. I docked it a star for a specific, spoilery reason that I won’t go into, but aside from that this was a great detective novel. All the characters seem possible suspects and there are quite a few distasteful folks even in the victim’s family. The main character Rob is narrating, so we don’t get too inside other ones but I believe that French’s goal is to introduce the world of this squad and then explore individuals in their own subsequent entries to the series. Rob is kind of a selfish dick, and admits he likes to lie so he is a somewhat untrustworthy narrator. Some of the assumptions he makes (such as how the reader would automatically agree with his assessments) were bad ones. I doubted his abilities to remain objective on the case the entire time.
I really liked his partner Cassie; she’s the youngest detective and handles some borderline sexual harassment from her teammates with aplomb. She has great instincts and is often a lot smarter than Rob, though they work very well together and play on each other’s strengths.
There are some negatives to this book but the biggest one would be a huge spoiler so I won’t reveal that. Many of the characters are unnecessarily churlish, and it seems like an obvious ploy to make the reader think they could all be suspects. In fact, I had my own suspicions for most of the novel who the culprit truly was but I couldn’t figure out the how and why. The fact that I ended up being correct (partially) I don’t think lessens the appeal of this mystery. I recommend this one if you like mysteries, and I’ll definitely read the next entry featuring Rob’s partner Cassie.