In the Woods by Tana French

In the WoodsIn the Woods

by Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad, #1

Hardcover, 429 pg.
Viking, 2007

Read: December 28, 2015

Twenty years after the disappearance (and presumed murder) of two older children, the body of a young girl from the same neighborhood is found on the site of an archaeological dig — atop a surface that was very likely used for human sacrifice. Doesn’t that sound like the hook to a gripping novel? French deals with it a little differently than most writers would — most of that is irrelevant.

The two detectives who catch this case are Rob Ryan (a friend of the two probable victims of from before) and his partner and pal, Cassie Maddox. They quickly determine the identity of the victim, see that her family situation isn’t as nice as it seems, and that this case will not be quickly solved.

The chemistry between Maddox and Ryan is strong, the partnership is almost too good to believe, it’s a lot of fun to see them working together. At a certain point they stop working together, and things stop going so well — leading up to that, Ryan’s been making rookie mistake after rookie mistake, all of which are done without the knowledge of or against the advice of his partner. Maddox isn’t quite that dependent on him, but it’s clear the two are stronger as a pair.

The procedural elements of the case are detailed and exhaustive. There’s probably too much of it, really. I don’t mind red herrings, or detectives running down false leads, really. But there’s a way to do that while serving a mystery, and there’s a way to do it harming the mystery. French opted for the latter — there’s an entire storyline devoted to a false lead, a couple of characters that exist merely to serve that storyline, until it’s ended and one of them goes on to play a role in the conclusion. And it could’ve been anyone in the conclusion doing what he did — almost literally anyone would’ve sufficed.

Ultimately, when the mystery is solved, it was thanks to a giant blinking sign that was ignored earlier — in a mostly believable manner. The interviews that followed were a real pleasure to read.

French showed an over-reliance on vague foreshadowing. Many chapters ended on a note along the lines of, “If I’d only done this, would it have helped? Probably not, but you never know” (but written better). Some of that is okay, but French overused this, it stopped being effective and became pretty annoying and/or skippable pretty quickly.

This is the beginning of a series, but from about the halfway point on, you got the impression that this would be the only one to star Ryan and Maddox. Which is part of the reason that the series is called the Dublin Murder Squad (despite the fact that no such thing exists), I guess — so different detectives can be the focus. Which sounds great, but I guess I would’ve liked a greater sense of place, of group, of…something. But this was Ryan and Maddox’s story, not the Squad’s. Thinking of it as the Squad’s story makes as much sense as thinking of the last few Harry Bosch novels as Open-Unsolved Unit’s.

This mystery definitely has aspirations, it’s a mystery novel that wants to be more than that. And it does a pretty good job of being more than a mystery novel, of achieving the aspirations. I just think it does so while forsaking the mystery novel. I liked it while I read it, but I kept seeing the strings attached to French’s marionettes — which detracted from, but didn’t eliminate the pleasure. I’m curious, but not driven, to see where French goes from here.

—–

3 Stars

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