I am not usually much one for cop dramas, but In the Woods got me. Set in the fictional Murder Squad in Dublin, the story begins with the murder of Katie Devlin, a promising young ballet star, a twelve year old with nothing but hope and success in front of her. One night she disappears and two days later, her body turns up in an archaeological dig, on an ancient Celtic altar. That is the backdrop. French takes you through the case as a plot movement, as a way of moving the story forward, but it isn’t the true narrative.
The narrator is one Rob Ryan, formerly known as Adam Ryan, until the day he is out in the same woods that our young ballet star is murdered in. He went in the woods with his two best friends, but came out alone, with blood all over his shoes. The case is never solved and Ryan is sent to boarding school in England to get away from the publicity. Katie’s murder brings him back to the woods, where he must confront his past, as the people and places he knew as a child have become important players in the investigation of Katie’s death. He is paired with Cassie Maddox, the only woman on the Murder Squad and his best friend, and the real narrative of the novel is their partnership.
The writing is beautiful. The narrator is a thoughtful man, who tells the story from a distance of some years in the future. His voice is lyrical and honest. Unusual for a crime drama, there are still certain sentences and images that are lingering in my mind days after I’ve put down the book. Although the novel turns on certain stereotypical elements, which set my teeth on edge for the first fifty page, I quickly forgot them in the art of the writing. Once the drama ramped up and the loose threads that French placed into the beginning of the story began to be woven together into a cohesive whole, I found that I couldn’t put the book down. French can turn a sentence and control a scene like a master. The characters are people that we know, reasonable and smart people placed into tough situations. Maddox and Ryan are heroes, but human heroes who make dreadful mistakes and have to pay the cost of them. Their back stories are relevant and move the plot, while adding depth to their characterization. When the novel ended, I was sad that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with them, so I was delighted to learn that this is just a first in a series. French just might be an exception for me; the mystery writer that I’m going to have to keep reading.
- Publisher: Viking Press
- Publish Date: May 17, 2007
- Hardcover: 429 pages
- Language: English
- Rating: 4 of 5 stars