In the Woods by Tana French

Word Lily review

In the Woods by Tana French (Viking Penguin, 2007), 429 pages

In a small outlying Dublin neighborhood, three children hop the stone fence into their favorite woods. But then they don’t come home for tea, and they don’t come when their mothers call. Much later, police find only one of the tweens, terrified and with a complete block as to what filled the missing hours. Years later, that found boy is a detective on the Murder Squad. He’s changed his name and left the past buried. But when he and partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl in those same woods, well, things get interesting.

I’d heard so many good things about this, I knew I wanted — needed, even? — to read it. I’m glad I finally got around to picking it off the shelf. The writing is superbly beautiful and filled with nuggets like this will still being accessible and readable.

The characters are definitely flawed, just the way I like them. Even when they disappoint me.

Haunting is a good word for In the Woods. Not that it scared me, but that it stayed with me in a somewhat uncomfortable way. It’s interesting to read the blurbs on the back cover, some call it a “hard-boiled police procedural” and others label it “psychological suspense.” Of course these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does kind of show, I think, the limits of labels.

I think I might finally understand all the people who say they love sad books. Well. I’m not saying I love sad books to the extent that I’m going to seek them out, but this book is sad, and I [still] love it.

I was spoiled, I knew before I got to the end that it wasn’t all wrapped up neatly. But I don’t think it would have bothered me like it did some people, even if I hadn’t known. I should have suspected, anyway. I’m OK with ambiguity. The sadness was harder for me than the lack of closure.

In the Woods won an Edgar Award for best first novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

I look forward to reading more from French. I’ll probably start with the follow-up to this one, The Likeness

About the author
Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theater, film and voiceover.

Other reviews
Caribou’s Mom
Reading Matters
You’ve GOTTA Read This
Book Journey
Fyrefly Books
Farm Lane Books
Presenting Lenore
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19 responses to “In the Woods by Tana French

  1. I should check this author out at some point…

  2. I’m so glad that you liked it. I just saw that it is on special today for Kindle and snagged a copy. I haven’t read any Tana French yet, but have seen a lot of talk on twitter.

  3. I really loved this book. In fact, it was one of those magical reading experiences for me. I bought it when it first came out and called a reading friend to read him a passage. I was just really impressed with the writing.

    I know many people hated the ending, but I was perfectly ok with it. It was nice to see a more realistic ending.

    I’ve read all hers since, and her latest, Broken Harbor, is … wow. amazing. Each of her books is so different.

  4. I’ve had this one for far too long. I need to make the time to get to it.

  5. Ironically, the thing that bothered me about this book was NOT the unsettled ending, but the way the narrator turns against his partner after sleeping with her. He just turned out to be a real big jerk! I was very angry about it, though I give French props for taking the unpopular route in this situation (particularly because it was from first person). I wouldn’t have spent another book with him, but was glad to find out the second book was narrated by Cassie instead.

    • It was really how that was handled that was my biggest beef, too. As he was portrayed, I felt like it was completely out of left field. But, then, since it was a limited/untrustworthy perspective, I’m not sure I get to complain.

  6. I struggled with this one a bit but I do enjoy Tanya French’s writing and will read her again.

  7. I love sad books, quite a lot indeed. It’s a shame because I have all these friends that are always after me to recommend fun/heartwarming/happy books, and um, I don’t tend to read an awful lot of them, though they do occasionally sneak in. LOL!

    This one’s been waiting patiently on my shelf, and I’m glad to hear you liked it because after reading Broken Harbor, I’m surely going to have to dig deeper into French’s work!

  8. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Yay, I’m glad you liked it all the way through! I will read it one day, it’s still on my shelf (not in storage)

  9. Thank you for this review. It definitely sounds intriguing. I am in the group of people who enjoy sad books. To clarify, not books that are sad for the sake of being sad or that are melodramatically sad for shock or “gut-wrenchiness”. But rather, are sad because of the material they’re portraying, and are written in a way that portrays the emotion in a dignified way. I tend to lean towards writing that has a lyricism to it, and from the excerpt you shared, the writer seems to have this down.

  10. I just bought this for my Nook a few days ago. Don’t know if I want sad a Christmas though.

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