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Friday, 7 March 2014

In The Woods by Tana French

Around the beginning of last year I was hearing lots of glowing praise for Broken Harbour by Tana French, which is the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. You know I'm always on the lookout for a new crime series to get hooked on, so I added French's name straight onto my must-try list. However, I'm also quite fussy about reading series like this in strict chronological order, and with one distraction and another I've only recently got round to reading this first instalment in the series.


Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are the only detectives in the Dublin Murder Squad office when the case gets called through, so it's theirs for the taking. A twelve-year-old girl has been found dead on an archaeological dig site in a suburban Dublin woodland, and the case bears an unnerving similarity to another child murder in the same small town twenty years previously. Two children disappeared without a trace and a third was found quaking in his blood-filled shoes, unable to recollect anything at all about events. What nobody knows, though, is that that third little boy left town and changed his identity, later returning to Dublin...as one detective Rob Ryan. Can he stop his memories of the past from clouding his judgment in the here and now?

Tana French writes beautifully. I could immediately see why so many people gushed about the style and prose in Broken Harbour. In The Woods opens with a short passage describing a hot summer's afternoon in small-town Ireland, and it just hits you in the face right from the off, wham! It's so evocative you can almost feel the sun beating down on your face. The whole novel definitely has a more literary feel to it than your average crime thriller. The plot is also well-developed with perfectly timed surprising twists and reveals to keep you gripped by developments.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this story was almost entirely spoiled by the fact that Rob Ryan is one of the most disagreeable characters I've ever had the experience of reading about! I found him unbelievably irritating and on a number of occasions was close to hurling the book across the room in frustration at his self-absorbed whining and his loathsome behaviour towards his flatmate, colleagues, parents...well, just about everyone. Usually a character with such an interesting and troubled back-story would provoke at least a little sympathy, but in this case I couldn't bring myself to care one jot about his predicaments. I'm not even sure if he was unlikeable by accident or by design - if a protagonist is intentionally objectionable I feel there needs to be some sort of delicious wicked spark to hold my interest, and that was lacking here.

It's testament to French's great writing and tight plotting that I didn't succumb to the temptation of giving up on this one. I just had to get to the end and find out what happened. If this was the beginning of a whole Rob Ryan series there's no way I would be reading more, but I believe that each book in the Dublin Murder Squad series takes on a different lead character so I am going to go ahead and give the others a try. I am still really keen to read Broken Harbour because the premise sounds great, although I have to say I don't know much about the second and third books.

Have you read anything by Tana French? Would you recommend the rest of the series?

4 comments:

  1. I have read In the Woods, and only that one. I did like it better than you did, primarily because of the author's writing style. I agree that Rob was a pain (and really dense), but it did not bother me so much.

    I hope I like the rest of the series, because I know I have #2 and #4. maybe #3 also. I do plan to read The Likeness sometime this year. It is long though.

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    1. They are long for crime novels, aren't they, but it didn't bother me about In The Woods because the writing style is so lyrical that it pulls it off. I will get round to reading the next one at some point.

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  2. Rob Ryan sounds a bit like the male lead in One Day. It's frustrating to have such an unbearable character in an otherwise good book. I haven't read anything by French and crime thrillers aren't at the top of my list but it's tough to ignore all of the praise!

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    1. Ha, I was NOT a fan of the guy in One Day either. Maybe I have a general problem with arrogant male protagonists - just can't engage with them!

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