Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Pages: 485
Author: Tana French
Add It: Goodreads
Series: Dublin Murder Squad (#1)
Publisher: Viking Adult

"Move closer, follow the three children scrambling over the thin membrane of brick and mortar that holds the wood back from the semi-ds. Their bodies have the perfect economy of latency; they are streamlined and unselfconcious, pared to light flying machines. White tattoos-lightning bolt, star, A- flash where they cut band-aid's into shapes and let the sun brown around them. A flag of white-blond hair flies out: toehold, knee on the wall, up and over and gone."

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book. Long ago I had asked for recommendations for books that would grip hold of my head and bend and twist it, until I was no longer sure of anything, much like the film Shutter Island or even the television show LOST. I grew up on Nancy Drew and was looking for that same excitement from reading again. I wanted to work my brain while I read and fall into the rabbit hole of the story until I hit the bottom, and all other light and sound was blocked out, because only the really good books can make pesky reality go away for awhile. When I read the synopsis, I wasn't sure that this book was what I was looking for. Crime fiction? I never read it. I moved this book to some dark corner of my to-read shelf where books go to die of loneliness because I can never read every book I want to read. It wasn't until Reynje read the book and I saw her updates and review that I decided to finally pick up the book on a whim, and I've got to thank Reynje, because I had no idea what I was missing out on by not having read this series yet. Everything about this book is lovely, the writing is atmospheric, and the characters are flesh and bone at your fingertips. The mystery isn't necessarily hard to figure out, but nor is it overly obvious, and it's still a worthwhile adventure to watch the characters minds break as the story unfolds around them.

"My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, or rejecting heart's desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities."

Certainly, I never thought I'd relate to Rob Ryan, but here we are. French creates characters so psychologically screwed up that I kind of love and hate myself for indentifying with them to any degree. It wasn't just Rob I related to, and towards the end of the story I definitely understood the feeling of being in Cassie's shoes, and wanted to hit Rob with a shoe, but that's just French's brilliance at work priming me for immediately moving on to book two which furthers along Cassie's story. I think that her books are probably infused with subliminal messages, but I cannot prove this with any amount of evidence other than my bank statements for the past two weeks, and I suspect those won't hold up in court.

"This was our last and greatest dance together, danced in a tiny interview room with darkness outside and rain falling soft and relentless on the roof, for no audience but the doomed and the dead."

I can see why people ship Rob and Cassie, and perhaps in some secret-dark-fucked-up-corner of myself I do too. In fact, I know I do, because they remind me of feelings I've felt too. Cassie and Rob are connected in every way; the good way and the bad way and everything in between. That makes it all the more heartbreaking, doesn't it? That they couldn't get it right? At the same time I think Cassie can (and does) find a healthier connection elsewhere. Sometimes connections that deep bring more sadness than happiness, and while they certainly can't be denied or ignored when they're at their best, when they're at their worst there's no armor thick enough to protect someone during the implosion. Sometimes people need a balance and not a... likeness. And in fact it was nice to see a realistic relationship played out on these pages. People don't always turn out to be who someone else thought they were. People let people down. People move on. People are so rarely heroes and people are so flawed, often too flawed to give themselves to someone else. Besides, Cassie is the hero of the story, and she doesn't need to be saved, so. I believe Regina Spektor wrote a song about her once.

it's alright, it's alright, it's alright
no one's got it all

You know what I am not moving on from though? That ending. I do think it's more haunting this way, but I'm the cat whose curiousity got her killed, and I NEEDED more. If you've read it, you know what I mean, if you haven't, you should find out for yourself. I don't want you to hold back from the story because that would be a shame. You should go into this book expecting the best and the worst, in every storyline, and every character, because this book builds you up and lets you down in turn.

"And then, too, I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn't find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself."


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