08 May 2012

In the Woods (Tana French)

Confession: my primary reason for instituting Mystery May was as an excuse to read more Tana French--I'd enjoyed Faithful Place in 2010, and wanted more. So I started at the very beginning, as per Julie Andrews, with the multiple-award-winning In the Woods.

Had not quite realized how her books fit together (the two mentioned above, with The Likeness in between; Broken Harbor comes out in July); they're a series chronologically, all related to the fictitious Dublin Murder Squad, but each has a different first-person narrator. Cool, right? Here, it's Detective Rob Ryan. Born Adam, he's abandoned the name in an effort to shuck the notoriety he earned as a twelve-year-old after his two best friends disappeared from the woods where the three often played, near their suburb of Knocknaree. He was discovered with his shoes dyed black and stiff with blood, parallel tears in the back of his T-shirt--and no memory whatsoever of what had happened. There has been no trace of the others, living or dead, since.

Twenty years later, Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are assigned to a murder in the same woods; twelve-year-old Katy Devlin has been bludgeoned and then carefully laid out an a stone altar at a nearby archaeological dig. Two tiny pieces of forensic evidence--a girl's hair clip and a drop of blood--seem to link it to the old case. Ryan knows he should stay away from this case, for the very same reasons he can't leave it behind. It's a recipe for bad decisions, and he makes an irreparable one.

Tormented detectives are a dime a dozen (or, this being an Irish novel, ten-a-penny, or ooh! Let's go with "bog-standard"). But what sets ItW apart is the depth of character. French is astonishingly adept at writing both Ryan's inner and outer lives: his frustration at not being able to remember the most important day of his life, his tiny, resurfacing memories of the moments he spent with Jamie and Peter, and especially the well-observed dialogue between him and Maddox, the easy rhythms and constant teasing of close friendship.

Loved this book. Can't wait to read the rest.

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