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.
Richly atmospheric, stunning in its complexity, and utterly convincing and surprising to the end, In the Woods is sure to enthrall fans of Mystic River and The Lovely Bones.
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Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland’s subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur’s palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants, One! two! three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and your best friend’s knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Everysummer decked in all its best glory.
Picture an orderly little maze of houses on a hill, only a few miles from Dublin. Someday, the government declared, this will be a buzzing marvel of suburban vitality, a plan-perfect solution to overcrowding and poverty and every urban ill; for now it is a few handfuls of cloned semi-detacheds, still new enough to look startled and gauche on their hillside. While the government rhapsodized about McDonald’s and multiscreens, a few young families—escaping from the tenements and outdoor toilets that went unmentioned in 1970s Ireland, or dreaming big back gardens and hopscotch roads for their children, or just buying as close to home as a teacher’s or bus driver’s salary would let them—packed rubbish bags and bumped along a two-track path, grass and daisies growing down the middle, to their mint-new start.
That was ten years ago, and the vague strobe-light dazzle of chain stores and community centers conjured up under “infrastructure” has so far failed to materialize (minor politicians occasionally bellow in the Dáil, unreported, about shady land deals). Farmers still pasture cows across the road, and night flicks on only a sparse constellation of lights on the neighboring hillsides; behind the estate, where the someday plans show the shopping center and the neat little park, spreads a square mile and who knows how many centuries of wood.
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 unselfconscious, pared to light flying machines. White tattoos—lightning bolt, star, A—flash where they cut Band-Aids 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.
The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises—rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teems with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye. Careful: bees zip in and out of cracks in the leaning oak; stop to turn any stone and strange larvae will wriggle irritably, while an earnest thread of ants twines up your ankle. In the ruined tower, someone’s abandoned stronghold, nettles thick as your wrist seize between the stones, and at dawn rabbits bring their kittens out from the foundations to play on ancient graves.
These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the microlandscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they could find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.
They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails. And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose is the face in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?
These children will not be coming of age, this or any other summer. This August will not ask them to find hidden reserves of strength and courage as they confront the complexity of the adult world and come away sadder and wiser and bonded for life. This summer has other requirements for them.
What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely, spending hours and days stupor-deep in lies, and then turn back to her holding out the lover’s ultimate Möbius strip: But I only did it because I love you so much.
I have a pretty knack for imagery, especially the cheap, facile kind. Don’t let me fool you into seeing us as a bunch of parfit gentil knights galloping off in doublets after Lady Truth on her white palfrey. What we do is crude, crass and nasty. A girl gives her boyfriend an alibi for the evening when we suspect him of robbing a north-side Centra and stabbing the clerk. I flirt with her at first, telling her I can see why he would want to stay home when he’s got her; she is peroxided and greasy, with the flat, stunted features of generations of malnutrition, and privately I am thinking that if I were her boyfriend I would be relieved to trade her even for a hairy cellmate named Razor. Then I tell her we’ve found marked bills from the till in his classy white tracksuit bottoms, and he’s claiming that she went out that evening and gave them to him when she got back.
I do it so convincingly, with such delicate crosshatching of discomfort and compassion at her man’s betrayal, that finally her faith in four shared years disintegrates like a sand castle and through tears and snot, while her man sits with my partner in the next interview room saying nothing except “Fuck off, I was home with Jackie,” she tells me everything from the time he left the house to the details of his sexual shortcomings. Then I pat her gently on the shoulder and give her a tissue and a cup of tea, and a statement sheet.
This is my job, and you don’t go into it—or, if you do, you don’t last—without some natural affinity for its priorities and demands. What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this—two things: I crave truth. And I lie.
This is what I read in the file, the day after I made detective. I will come back to this story again and again, in any number of different ways. A poor thing, possibly, but mine own: this is the only story in the world that nobody but me will ever be able to tell.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 14, 1984, three children—Germaine (“Jamie”) Elinor Rowan, Adam Robert Ryan and Peter Joseph Savage, all aged twelve—were playing in the road where their houses stood, in the small County Dublin town of Knocknaree. As it was a hot, clear day, many residents were in their gardens, and numerous witnesses saw the children at various times during the afternoon, balancing along the wall at the end of the road, riding their bicycles and swinging on a tire swing.
Knocknaree was at that time very sparsely developed, and a sizable wood adjoined the estate, separated from it by a five-foot wall. Around 3:00 p.m., the three children left their bicycles in the Savages’ front garden, telling Mrs. Angela Savage—who was in the garden hanging washing on the line—that they were going to play in the wood. They did this often and knew that part of the wood well, so Mrs. Savage was not worried that they would become lost. Peter had a wristwatch, and she told him to be home by 6:30 for his tea. This conversation was confirmed by her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Mary Therese Corry, and several witnesses saw the children climbing over the wall at the end of the road and going into the wood.
When Peter Savage had not returned by 6:45 his mother called around to the mothers of the other two children, assuming he had gone to one of their houses. None of the children had returned. Peter Savage was normally reliable, but the parents did not at that point become worried; they assumed that the children had become absorbed in a game and forgotten to check the time. At approximately five minutes to seven, Mrs. Savage went around to the wood by the road, walked a little way in and called the children. She heard no answer and neither saw nor heard anything to indicate any person was present in the wood.
She returned home to serve tea to her husband, Mr. Joseph Savage, and their four younger children. After tea, Mr. Savage and Mr. John Ryan, Adam Ryan’s father, went a little further into the wood, called the children and again received no response. At 8:25, when it was beginning to grow dark, the parents became seriously worried that the children might have become lost, and Miss Alicia Rowan (Germaine’s mother, a single parent), who had a telephone, rang the police.
A search of the wood began. There was at this point some fear that the children might have run away. Miss Rowan had decided that Germaine was to go to boarding school in Dublin, remaining there during the week and returning to Knocknaree at weekends; she had been scheduled to leave two weeks later, and all three children had been very upset at the thought of being separated. However, a preliminary search of the children’s rooms revealed that no clothing, money or personal items appeared to be missing. Germaine’s piggy bank, in the form of a Russian doll, contained £5.85 and was intact.
At 10:20 p.m. a policeman with a torch found Adam Ryan in a densely wooded area near the center of the wood, standing with his back and palms pressed against a large oak tree. His fingernails were digging into the trunk so deeply that they had broken off in the bark. He appeared to have been there for some time but had not responded to the searchers’ calling. He was taken to hospital. The Dog Unit was called in and tracked the two missing children to a point not far from where Adam Ryan had been found; there the dogs became confused and lost the scent.
When I was found I was wearing blue denim shorts, a white cotton T-shirt, white cotton socks and white lace-up running shoes. The shoes were heavily bloodstained, the socks less heavily. Later analysis of the staining patterns showed that the blood had soaked through the shoes from the inside outwards; it had soaked through the socks, in lesser concentrations, from the outside in. The implication was that the shoes had been removed and blood had spilled into them; some time later, when it had begun to coagulate, the shoes had been replaced on my feet, thus transferring blood to the socks. The T-shirt showed four parallel tears, between three and five inches in length, running diagonally across the back from the mid-left shoulder blade to the right back ribs.
I was uninjured except for some minor scratches on my calves, splinters (later found to be consistent with the wood of the oak tree) under my fingernails, and a deep abrasion on each kneecap, both beginning to form scabs. There was some uncertainty as to whether the grazes had been made in the wood or not, as a younger child (Aideen Watkins, aged five) who had been playing in the road stated that she had seen me fall from a wall earlier that day, landing on my knees. However, her statement varied with retelling and was not considered reliable. I was also near-catatonic: I made no voluntary movement for almost thirty-six hours and did not speak for a further two weeks. When I did, I had no memory of anything between leaving home that afternoon and being examined in the hospital.
The blood on my shoes and socks was tested for ABO type—DNA analysis was not a possibility in Ireland in 1984—and found to be type A positive. My blood was also found to be type A positive; however, it was judged to be unlikely that the abrasions on my knees, although deep, could have drawn enough blood to cause the heavy soaking in the running shoes. Germaine Rowan’s blood had been tested prior to an appendectomy two years earlier, and her records showed that she was also A positive. Peter Savage, though no blood type was on record for him, was eliminated as the source of the stains: both his parents were found to be type O, making it impossible that he could be anything else. In the absence of conclusive identification, investigators could not eliminate the possibility that the blood had come from a fourth individual, nor the possibility that it originated from multiple sources.
The search continued throughout the night of August 14 and for weeks thereafter—teams of volunteers combed the nearby fields and hills, every known bog hole and bog drain in the area was explored, divers searched the river that ran through the wood—with no result. Fourteen months later, Mr. Andrew Raftery, a local resident walking his dog in the wood, spotted a wristwatch in the undergrowth about two hundred feet from the tree where I had been found. The watch was distinctive—the face showed a cartoon of a footballer in action, and the second-hand was tipped with a football—and Mr. and Mrs. Savage identified it as having belonged to their son Peter. Mrs. Savage confirmed that he had been wearing it on the afternoon of his disappearance. The watch’s plastic strap appeared to have been torn from the metal face with some force, possibly by catching on a low branch when Peter was running. The Technical Bureau identified a number of partial fingerprints on the strap and face; all were consistent with prints found on Peter Savage’s belongings.
Despite numerous police appeals and a high-profile media campaign, no other trace of Peter Savage and Germaine Rowan was ever found.
I became a policeman because I wanted to be a Murder detective. My time in training and in uniform—Templemore College, endless complicated physical exercises, wandering around small towns in a cartoonish Day-Glo jacket, investigating which of the three unintelligible local delinquents had broken Mrs. McSweeney’s garden-shed window—all felt like an embarrassing daze scripted by Ionesco, a trial by tedium I had to endure, for some dislocated bureaucratic reason, in order to earn my actual job. I never think about those years and cannot remember them with any clarity. I made no friends; to me my detachment from the whole process felt involuntary and inevitable, like the side effect of a sedative drug, but the other cops read it as deliberate superciliousness, a studied sneer at their solid rural backgrounds and solid rural ambitions. Possibly it was. I recently found a diary entry from college in which I described my classmates as “a herd of mouth-breathing fucktard yokels who wade around in a miasma of cliché so thick you can practically smell the bacon and cabbage and cow shite and altar candles.” Even assuming I was having a bad day, I think this shows a certain lack of respect for cultural differences.
When I made the Murder squad, I had already had my new work clothes—beautifully cut suits in materials so fine they felt alive to your fingers, shirts with the subtlest of blue or green pinstripes, rabbit-soft cashmere scarves—hanging in my wardrobe for almost a year. I love the unspoken dress code. It was one of the things that first fascinated me about the job—that and the private, functional, elliptical shorthand: latents, trace, Forensics. One of the Stephen King small towns where I was posted after Templemore had a murder: a routine domestic-violence incident that had escalated beyond even the perpetrator’s expectations, but, because the man’s previous girlfriend had died in suspicious circumstances, the Murder squad sent down a pair of detectives. All the week they were there, I had one eye on the coffee machine whenever I was at my desk, so I could get my coffee when the detectives got theirs, take my time adding milk and eavesdrop on the streamlined, brutal rhythms of their conversation: when the Bureau comes back on the tox, once the lab IDs the serrations. I started smoking again so I could follow them out to the car park and smoke a few feet from them, staring blindly at the sky and listening. They would give me brief unfocused smiles, sometimes a flick of a tarnished Zippo, before dismissing me with the slightest angle of a shoulder and going back to their subtle, multidimensional strategies. Pull in the ma first, then give him an hour or two to sit at home worrying about what she’s saying, then get him back in. Set up a scene room but just walk him through it, don’t give him time for a good look.
Contrary to what you might assume, I did not become a detective on some quixotic quest to solve my childhood mystery. I read the file once, that first day, late on my own in the squad room with my desk lamp the only pool of light (forgotten names setting echoes flicking like bats around my head as they testified in faded Biro that Jamie had kicked her mother because she didn’t want to go to boarding school, that “dangerous-looking” teenage boys spent evenings hanging around at the edge of the wood, that Peter’s mother once had a bruise on her cheekbone), and then never looked at it again. It was these arcana I craved, these near-invisible textures like a Braille legible only to the initiated. They were like thoroughbreds, those two Murder detectives passing through Ballygobackwards; like trapeze artists honed to a sizzling shine. They played for the highest stakes, and they were experts at their game.
I knew that what they did was cruel. Humans are feral and ruthless; this, this watching through cool intent eyes and delicately adjusting one factor or another till a man’s fundamental instinct for self-preservation cracks, is savagery in its most pure, most polished and most highly evolved form.
We heard about Cassie days before she joined the squad, probably before she even got the offer. Our grapevine is ridiculously, old-ladyishly efficient. Murder is a high-pressure squad and a small one, only twenty permanent members, and under any added strain (anyone leaving, anyone new, too much work, too little work), it tends to develop a tinge of cabin-fevery hysteria, full of complicated alliances and frantic rumors. I am usually well out of the loop, but the Cassie Maddox buzz was loud enough that even I picked up on it.
For one thing she was a woman, which caused a certain amount of poorly sublimated outrage. We are all well trained to be horrified by the evils of prejudice, but there are deep stubborn veins of nostalgia for the 1950s (even among people my age; in much of Ireland the fifties didn’t end until 1995, when we skipped straight to Thatcher’s eighties), when you could scare a suspect into confession by threatening to tell his mammy and the only foreigners in the country were med students and work was the one place where you were safe from nagging females. Cassie was only the fourth woman Murder had taken on, and at least one of the others had been a huge mistake (a deliberate one, according to some people) who had entered squad lore when she nearly got herself and her partner killed by freaking out and throwing her gun at a cornered suspect’s head.
Also, Cassie was only twenty-eight and only a few years out of Templemore. Murder is one of the elite squads, and nobody under thirty gets taken on unless his father is a politician. Generally you have to spend a couple of years as a floater, helping out wherever someone is needed for legwork, and then work your way up through at least one or two other squads. Cassie had less than a year in Drugs under her belt. The grapevine claimed, inevitably, that she was sleeping with someone important, or alternatively that she was someone’s illegitimate daughter, or—with a touch more originality—that she had caught someone important buying drugs and this job was a payoff for keeping her mouth shut.
I had no problem with the idea of Cassie Maddox. I had been in Murder only a few months, but I disliked the New Neanderthal locker-room overtones, competing cars and competing aftershaves and subtly bigoted jokes justified as “ironic,” which always made me want to go into a long pedantic lecture on the definition of irony. On the whole I prefer women to men. I also had complicated private insecurities to do with my own place on the squad. I was almost thirty-one and had two years as a floater and two in Domestic Violence, so my appointment was less sketchy than Cassie’s, but I sometimes thought the brass assumed I was a good detective in the mindless preprogrammed way that some men will assume a tall, slim, blond woman is beautiful even if she has a face like a hyperthyroid turkey: because I have all the accessories. I have a perfect BBC accent, picked up at boarding school as protective camouflage, and all that colonization takes awhile to wear off: even though the Irish will cheer for absolutely any team playing against England, and I know a number of pubs where I couldn’t order a drink without risking a glass to the back of the head, they still assume that anyone with a stiff upper lip is more intelligent, better educated and generally more likely to be right. On top of this I am tall, with a bony, rangy build that can look lean and elegant if my suit is cut just right, and fairly good-looking in an offbeat way. Central Casting would definitely think I was a good detective, probably the brilliant maverick loner who risks his neck fearlessly and always gets his man.
I have practically nothing in common with that guy, but I wasn’t sure anyone else had noticed. Sometimes, after too much solitary vodka, I came up with vivid paranoid scenarios in which the superintendent found out I was actually a civil servant’s son from Knocknaree and I got transferred to Intellectual Property Rights. With Cassie Maddox around, I figured, people were much less likely to spend time having suspicions about me.
When she finally arrived, she was actually sort of an anticlimax. The lavishness of the rumors had left me with a mental picture of someone on the same TV-drama scale, with legs up to here and shampoo-ad hair and possibly a catsuit. Our superintendent, O’Kelly, introduced her at Monday-morning parade, and she stood up and said something standard about being delighted to join the squad and hoping she’d live up to its high standards; she was barely medium height, with a cap of dark curls and a boyish, slim, square-shouldered build. She wasn’t my type—I have always liked girlie girls, sweet, tiny bird-boned girls I can pick up and whirl around in a one-armed hug—but there was something about her: maybe the way she stood, weight on one hip, straight and easy as a gymnast; maybe just the mystery.
“I heard her family are Masons and they threatened to have the squad dissolved if we didn’t take her on,” said Sam O’Neill, behind me. Sam is a stocky, cheerful, unflappable guy from Galway. I hadn’t had him down as one of the people who would get swept up in the rumor tsunami.
“Oh for God’s sake,” I said, falling for it. Sam grinned and shook his head at me, and slid past me to a seat. I went back to looking at Cassie, who had sat down and propped one foot against the chair in front of her, leaning her notebook on her thigh.
She wasn’t dressed like a Murder detective. You learn by osmosis, as soon as you set your sights on the job, that you are expected to look professional, educated, discreetly expensive with just a soupçon of originality. We give the taxpayers their money’s worth of comforting cliché. We mostly shop at Brown Thomas, during the sales, and occasionally come into work wearing embarrassingly identical soupçons. Up until then, the wackiest our squad had got was this cretin called Quigley, who sounded like Daffy Duck with a Donegal accent and wore slogan T-shirts (MAD BASTARD) under his suits because he thought he was being daring. When he eventually realized that none of us were shocked, or even remotely interested, he got his mammy to come up for the day and take him shopping at BT.
That first day I put Cassie in the same category. She was wearing combat trousers and a wine-colored woollen sweater with sleeves that came down past her wrists, and clunky runners, and I put this down as affectation: Look, I’m too cool for your conventions. The spark of animosity this ignited increased my attraction to her. There is a side of me that is most intensely attracted to women who annoy me.
I didn’t register her very much over the next couple of weeks, except in the general way that you do register any decent-looking woman when you’re surrounded by men. She was being shown the ropes by Tom Costello, our resident grizzled veteran, and I was working on a homeless man found battered to death in an alleyway. Some of the depressing, inexorable flavor of his life had leaked over into his death, and it was one of those cases that are hopeless from the start—no leads, nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything, whoever killed him was probably so drunk or high he didn’t even remember doing it—so my gung-ho newbie sparkle was starting to look a little patchy. I was also partnered with Quigley, which wasn’t working out; his idea of humor was to reenact large segments of Wallace & Gromitand then do a Woody Woodpecker laugh to show you they were funny, and it was dawning on me that I’d been teamed up with him not because he would be friendly to the new boy but because nobody else wanted him. I didn’t have the time or the energy to get to know Cassie. Sometimes I wonder how long we might have gone on like that. Even in a small squad, there are always people with whom you never get beyond nods and smiles in corridors, simply because your paths never happen to cross anywhere else.
We became friends because of her moped, a cream 1981 Vespa that somehow, in spite of its classic status, reminds me of a happy mutt with some border collie in its pedigree. I call it the Golf Cart to annoy Cassie; she calls my battered white Land Rover the Compensation Wagon, with the odd compassionate remark about my girlfriends, or the Ecomobile when she is feeling bolshie. The Golf Cart chose a viciously wet, windy day in September to break down outside work. I was on my way out of the car park and saw this little dripping girl in a red rain jacket, looking like Kenny out of South Park, standing beside this little dripping bike and yelling after a bus that had just drenched her. I pulled over and called out the window, “Could you use a hand?”
She looked at me and shouted back, “What makes you think that?” and then, taking me completely by surprise, started to laugh.
For about five minutes, as I tried to get the Vespa to start, I fell in love with her. The oversized raincoat made her look about eight, as though she should have had matching Wellies with ladybugs on them, and inside the red hood were huge brown eyes and rain-spiked lashes and a face like a kitten’s. I wanted to dry her gently with a big fluffy towel, in front of a roaring fire. But then she said, “Here, let me—you have to know how to twist the thingy,” and I raised an eyebrow and said, “The thingy? Honestly, girls.”
I immediately regretted it—I have never been talented at banter, and you never know, she could have been some earnest droning feminist extremist who would lecture me in the rain about Amelia Earhart. But Cassie gave me a deliberate, sideways look, and then clasped her hands with a wet spat and said in a breathy Marilyn voice, “Ohhh, I’ve always dreamed of a knight in shining armor coming along and rescuing little me! Only in my dreams he was good-looking.”
What I saw transformed with a click like a shaken kaleidoscope. I stopped falling in love with her and started to like her immensely. I looked at her hoodie jacket and said, “Oh my God, they’re about to kill Kenny.” Then I loaded the Golf Cart into the back of my Land Rover and drove her home.
She had a studio flat, which is what landlords call a bedsit where there is room to have a friend over, on the top floor of a semi-dilapidated Georgian house in Sandymount. The road was quiet; the wide sash window looked out over rooftops to Sandymount beach. There were wooden bookshelves crammed with old paperbacks, a low Victorian sofa upholstered in a virulent shade of turquoise, a big futon with a patchwork duvet, no ornaments or posters, a handful of shells and rocks and chestnuts on the windowsill.
I don’t remember very many specifics about that evening, and according to Cassie neither does she. I can remember some of the things we talked about, a few piercingly clear images, but I could give you almost none of the actual words. This strikes me as odd and, in certain moods, as very magical, linking the evening to those fugue states that over the centuries have been blamed on fairies or witches or aliens, and from which no one returns unchanged. But those lost, liminal pockets of time are usually solitary; there is something about the idea of a shared one that makes me think of twins, reaching out slow blind hands in a gravity-free and wordless space.
I know I stayed for dinner—a studenty dinner, fresh pasta and sauce from a jar, hot whiskey in china mugs. I remember Cassie opening a huge wardrobe that took up most of one wall, to pull out a towel for me to dry my hair. Someone, presumably her, had slotted bookshelves inside the wardrobe. The shelves were set at odd, off-kilter heights and packed with a wild variety of objects: I didn’t get a proper look, but there were chipped enamel saucepans, marbled notebooks, soft jewel-colored sweaters, tumbles of scribbled paper. It was like something in the background of one of those old illustrations of fairy-tale cottages.
I do remember finally asking, “So how did you end up in the squad?” We had been talking about how she was settling in, and I thought I had dropped it in pretty casually, but she gave me a tiny, mischievous smile, as though we were playing checkers and she had caught me trying to distract her from a clumsy move.
“Being a girl, you mean?”
“Actually, I meant being so young,” I said, although of course I had been thinking of both.
“Costello called me ‘son’ yesterday,” Cassie said. “‘Fair play to you, son.’ Then he got all flustered and stammery. I think he was afraid I’d sue.”
“It was probably a compliment, in its own way,” I said.
“That’s how I took it. He’s quite sweet, really.” She tucked a cigarette in her mouth and held out her hand; I threw her my lighter.
“Someone told me you were undercover as a hooker and ran into one of the brass,” I said, but Cassie just tossed the lighter back to me and grinned.
“Quigley, right? He told me you were an MI6 mole.”
“What?” I said, outraged and falling straight into my own trap. “Quigley is a cretin.”
“Gee, you think?” she said, and started to laugh. After a moment I joined in. The mole thing bothered me—if anyone actually believed it, they would never tell me anything again—and being taken for English infuriates me to an irrational degree, but I sort of enjoyed the absurd idea of me as James Bond.
“I’m from Dublin,” I said. “I got the accent at boarding school in England. And that lobotomized bogger knows it.” Which he did; in my first weeks on the squad he had pestered me so monotonously about what an English guy was doing in the Irish police force, like a child poking you in the arm and droning “Why? Why? Why?” that I had finally broken my need-to-know rule and explained the accent. Apparently I should have used smaller words.
“What are you doing working with him?” Cassie asked.
“Quietly losing my mind,” I said.
Something, I’m still not sure what, had made up Cassie’s mind. She leaned sideways, switching her mug to the other hand (she swears we were drinking coffee by that stage and claims that I only think it was hot whiskey because we drank it so often that winter, but I know, I remember the sharp prongs of a clove on my tongue, the heady steam), and pulled up her top to just under her breast. I was so startled that it took me a moment to realize what she was showing me: a long scar, still red and raised and spidered with stitch marks, curving along the line of a rib. “I got stabbed,” she said.
It was so obvious that I was embarrassed nobody had thought of it. A detective wounded on duty gets his or her choice of assignment. I suppose we had overlooked this possibility because normally a stabbing would have practically shorted out the grapevine; we had heard nothing about this.
“Jesus,” I said. “What happened?”
“I was undercover in UCD,” Cassie said. This explained both the clothes and the information gap—undercover are serious about secrecy. “That’s how I made detective so fast: there was a ring dealing on campus, and Drugs wanted to find out who was behind it, so they needed people who could pass for students. I went in as a psychology postgrad. I did a few years of psychology at Trinity before Templemore, so I could talk the talk, and I look young.”
She did. There was a specific clarity about her face that I’ve never seen in anyone else; her skin was poreless as a child’s, and her features—wide mouth, high round cheekbones, tilted nose, long curves of eyebrow—made other people’s look smudged and blurry. As far as I could tell she never wore makeup, except for a red-tinted lip balm that smelled of cinnamon and made her seem even younger. Few people would have considered her beautiful, but my tastes have always leaned toward bespoke rather than brand name, and I took far more pleasure in looking at her than at any of the busty blond clones whom magazines, insultingly, tell me I should desire.
“And your cover got blown?”
“No,” she said, indignant. “I found out who the main dealer was—this brain-dead rich boy from Blackrock, studying business, of course—and I spent months making friends with him, laughing at his crap jokes, proofreading his essays. Then I suggested maybe I could deal to the girls, they’d be less nervous about buying drugs from another woman, right? He liked the idea, everything was going great, I was dropping hints that maybe it would be simpler if I met the supplier myself instead of getting the stuff through him. Only then Dealer Boy started snorting a little too much of his own speed—this was in May, he had exams coming up. He got paranoid, decided I was trying to take over his business and stabbed me.” She took a sip of her drink. “Don’t tell Quigley, though. The operation’s still going on, so I’m not supposed to talk about it. Let the poor little fucker enjoy his illusions.”
I was secretly terribly impressed, not only by the stabbing (after all, I told myself, it wasn’t as though she had done something outstandingly brave or intelligent; she had just failed to dodge fast enough), but by the dark, adrenaline-paced thought of undercover work and by the utter casualness with which she told the story. Having worked hard to perfect an air of easy indifference, I recognize the real thing when I see it.
“Jesus,” I said again. “I bet he got a good going-over when they brought him in.” I’ve never hit a suspect—I find there’s no need to, as long as you make them think you might—but there are guys who do, and anyone who stabs a cop is likely to pick up a few bruises en route to the station.
She cocked an eyebrow at me, amused. “They didn’t. That would’ve wrecked the whole operation. They need him to get to the supplier; they just started over with a new undercover.”
“But don’t you want him taken down?” I said, frustrated by her calm and by my own creeping sense of naïveté. “Hestabbed you.”
Cassie shrugged. “After all, if you think about it, he had a point: I was only pretending to be his friend to screw him over. And he was a strung-out drug dealer. That’s what strung-out drug dealers do.”
After that my memory grows hazy again. I know that, determined to impress her in my turn, and never having been stabbed or involved in a shootout or anything, I told her a long and rambling and mostly true story about talking down a guy who was threatening to jump off the roof of a block of flats with his baby, back when I was in Domestic Violence (really, I think I must have been a little drunk: another reason I’m so sure we had hot whiskey). I remember a passionate conversation about Dylan Thomas, I think, Cassie kneeling up on the sofa and gesturing, her cigarette burning away forgotten in the ashtray. Bantering, smart but tentative as shy circling children, both of us checking covertly after each riposte to make sure we hadn’t crossed any line or hurt any feelings. Firelight and the Cowboy Junkies, Cassie singing along in a sweet rough undertone.
“The drugs you got from Dealer Boy,” I said, later. “Did you actually sell them to students?”
Cassie got up to put on the kettle. “Occasionally,” she said.
“Didn’t that bother you?”
“Everything about undercover bothered me,” Cassie said. “Everything.”
When we went into work the next morning we were friends. It really was as simple as that: we planted seeds without thinking, and woke up to our own private beanstalk. At break time I caught Cassie’s eye and mimed a cigarette, and we went outside to sit cross-legged at either end of a bench, like bookends. At the end of the shift she waited for me, bitching to the air about how long I took to get my things together (“It’s like hanging out with Sarah Jessica Parker. Don’t forget your lip liner, sweetie, we don’t want the chauffeur to have to go back for it again”), and said “Pint?” on the way down the stairs. I can’t explain the alchemy that transmuted one evening into the equivalent of years held lightly in common. The only way I can put it is that we recognized, too surely even for surprise, that we shared the same currency.
As soon as she finished learning the ropes with Costello, we partnered up. O’Kelly put up a bit of a fight—he didn’t like the idea of two shiny new rookies working together, and it meant he would have to find something else to do with Quigley—but I had, by sheer luck rather than shrewd detection, found someone who had heard someone bragging about killing the homeless guy, so I was in O’Kelly’s good books, and I took full advantage of it. He warned us that he would give us only the simplest cases and the nohopers, “nothing that needs real detective work,” and we nodded meekly and thanked him again, aware that murderers aren’t considerate enough to ensure that the complex cases come up in strict rotation. Cassie moved her stuff to the desk beside mine, and Costello got stuck with Quigley and gave us sad reproachful looks for weeks, like a martyred Labrador.
Over the next couple of years we developed, I think, a good reputation within the squad. We pulled in the suspect from the alley beating and interrogated him for six hours—although, if you deleted every recurrence of “Ah, fuck, man” from the tape, I doubt it would run over forty minutes—until he confessed. He was a junkie called Wayne (“Wayne,” I said to Cassie, while we were getting him a Sprite and watching him pick his acne in the one-way glass. “Why didn’t his parents just tattoo ‘Nobody in my family has ever finished secondary school’ on his forehead at birth?”) and he had beaten up the homeless guy, who was known as Beardy Eddie, for stealing his blanket. After he signed his statement, Wayne wanted to know if he could have his blanket back. We handed him over to the uniforms and told him they would look into it, and then we went back to Cassie’s with a bottle of champagne and stayed up talking till six in the morning, and came in to work late and sheepish and still a little giggly.
We went through the predictable process where Quigley and a few of the others spent awhile asking me whether I was shagging her and whether, if so, she was any good; once it dawned on them that I genuinely wasn’t, they moved on to her probable dykehood (I have always considered Cassie to be very clearly feminine, but I could see how, to a certain kind of mind, the haircut and the lack of makeup and the boys’-department corduroys would add up to Sapphic tendencies). Cassie eventually got bored of this and tidied things up by appearing at the Christmas party with a strapless black velvet cocktail dress and a bullishly handsome rugby player named Gerry. He was actually her second cousin and happily married, but he was heartily protective of Cassie and had no objection to gazing adoringly at her for an evening if it would smooth her career path.
After that, the rumors faded and people more or less left us to our own devices, which suited us both. Contrary to appearances, Cassie is not a particularly social person, any more than I am; she is vivacious and quick with banter and can talk to anyone, but given the choice, she preferred my company to that of a big group. I slept on her sofa a lot. Our solve rate was good and rising; O’Kelly stopped threatening to split us up every time we were late turning in paperwork. We were in the courtroom to see Wayne found guilty of manslaughter (“Ah, fuck, man”). Sam O’Neill drew a deft little caricature of the two of us as Mulder and Scully (I still have it, somewhere) and Cassie stuck it to the side of her computer, next to a bumper sticker that said BAD COP! NO DOUGHNUT!
In retrospect, I think Cassie came along at just the right time for me. My dazzling, irresistible outsider’s vision of the Murder squad had not included things like Quigley, or gossip, or interminable circular interrogations of junkies with six-word vocabularies and dentist’s-drill accents. I had pictured a tensile, heightened mode of existence, everything small and petty bush-fired away by a readiness so charged it snapped sparks, and the reality had left me bewildered and let down, like a child opening a glittering Christmas present and finding woolly socks inside. If it hadn’t been for Cassie, I think I might have ended up turning into that detective on Law & Order, the one who has ulcers and thinks everything is a government conspiracy.
Reading Group Guide
Much more than a gripping police procedural, Tana French's debut novel offers readers a stunning look into the dark recesses of the human heart and a brooding reflection on the evils that are sometimes just a breath away. As a newly anointed murder-squad detective in Dublin, Ireland, Rob Ryan solves mysteries for a living. Yet only a handful of people know that a generation earlier Ryan himself stood at the center of one of the most tantalizing unsolved cases in the recent annals of Irish crime. At the age of twelve, then known as Adam Ryan, he and two playmates wandered into a wood near his home in the town of Knocknaree. Hours after being reported missing, Adam was found unhurt but standing in a pair of blood-soaked sneakers, so deeply traumatized that he could not recall a single detail of what had happened. The two other children were never found.
Ryan has spent twenty years trying to bury his past, but if his line of work has shown him anything it is that some secrets refuse to remain hidden. His long-stifled anxieties abruptly surface when the battered body of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin is discovered in the same woods where Ryan had lost his friends and his innocence. When Ryan's partner Cassie Maddox volunteers herself and Ryan to take the case, Ryan embarks on a treacherous odyssey through repressed memories and contemporary horror. At the same time that he and Cassie become the best hope for bringing Katy's murderer to justice, Ryan nurses his personal hope that he may, at last, find the keys to unlock his own decades-old mystery. While investigating Katy's strangely inward-looking family and the political intrigues surrounding a local highway project, Rob and Cassie develop some promising leads in the Devlin murder. However, as the investigation also brings Rob closer to resurrecting his own most disturbing moments, he finds his hopes of killing two birds with one stone dissolving into confusion. Trying to recover what was stolen from him so long ago, Rob begins to risk losing everything of value that he still has—his professional reputation, his closest friendships, and his mental well-being.
A first-time author who writes like a seasoned veteran, Tana French populates her psychological thriller with deftly drawn, unforgettable characters, from Rob's brilliant and magnetic partner, Cassie, to Katy's overprotective and evasive parents to Mark Hanly, the passionate young archaeologist whose very life is devoted to buried truths. Always at the center of the story, however, is Rob Ryan himself—keenly intelligent, outwardly brash and confident, but far more fundamentally wounded and incomplete than appearances reveal. In the dark, deceptive world of In the Woods, many of the hardest questions depend upon a single query: will Rob's attempts to regain his inner equilibrium finally throw his life, his friends, and the Devlin investigation out of balance forever?
ABOUT TANA FRENCH
Born in Vermont, Tana French had a peripatetic childhood that took her to Florence and Rome, as well as the African nation of Malawi. A resident of Dublin since 1990, she has a degree in drama and English from Trinity College. Prior to writing In the Woods, she was best known as an actor in a wide variety of theatrical productions in Dublin.
A CONVERSATION WITH TANA FRENCH
Q. You had an unusually globetrotting childhood, with stops in Italy and Malawi. We're guessing that as a schoolgirl in Malawi, like Adam Ryan in Knocknaree, you may have had some experiences with wild, forbidden places. Does Adam's evening of terror In the Woods correlate to anything you encountered or were warned to avoid in the African subtropics?
I think every child's world has wild places where dark things might be waiting, places where the borderline of normal reality seems to fracture. For me, living in Malawi probably gave those places and those dark things a more tangible, more vivid form than they might have had if I'd been growing up in Vermont or in Dublin. Right outside our backyard was the bush, a whole savage and mysterious and potentially lethal world just a thin wire fence away. I could hear hyenas whooping out there at night, cobras slid into our backyard, when the local medicine men held their ceremonies I heard the drumming and chanting. (And yes, I was warned to avoid all this stuff, but I was the kind of kid who always got a few steps closer than my parents ever knew). But I think that sense of wild danger just a few steps away is a presence for every child; the locus of that danger might be the space under the bed, the basement, or the spooky shortcut that no one wants to take, but it's always there.
Q. In addition to becoming an author, you have acquired a strong reputation as an actor. Why do you think In the Woodscame out of you in the shape of a novel, instead of a script or a screenplay?
This may sound strange, but writing In the Woods as a novel was actually a lot closer to acting than writing a script or a screenplay would have been. The book is first person—everything is seen through Rob Ryan's eyes, filtered through his perceptions and described in his voice. That was my job as an actor for years: to create a character and spend hours a day operating completely from her perspective. Writing In the Woods was just an extension of that process. I played Rob Ryan for almost two years—on paper, rather than on stage, but the mental process was the same. To write the story as a script or a screenplay, I would have needed to work from a much more detached point of view, coming at it as an all-seeing outsider rather than as a character experiencing the story from inside, and I don't have a clue how to do that. Working from inside is all I know.
Q.You write about archaeology as if you've been there. Should we assume that the archaeological dig in your novel is more than just a storytelling convenience?
I've always been fascinated by archaeology (when I was little I was going to be an archaeologist and discover Troy, till I found out that someone had already done that), and I've actually worked on two archaeological digs. The second one was where I got the idea for In the Woods. There was a wood not far from the dig, and one day I thought, What if three kids went in there to play and only one came out, and he had no memory of what had happened? So the idea of a dig as the setting worked its way into the book almost without me realizing it. I left it there because it seemed to fit on several levels. For one thing, that tense, discordant relationship between past and present is very much a part of the book. Also, the archaeologist's job is a lot like the detective's: they're both presented with the end result of a series of events, and they have to work their way backwards from there to figure out what happened.
Q. To tell the story of In the Woods, you have transgendered your voice; you speak to us through the male persona of Rob Ryan. Why did you opt for a male narrator, and did you encounter any particular challenges in adopting a masculine perspective?
Almost as soon as I thought of the basic premise of the book, the character of Rob Ryan came into my head: intelligent, sarcastic, secretive, proud, too badly damaged to be honest either with himself or with his readers—and male. It was never a conscious choice; that's just how he popped up.
I didn't run into any particular difficulties to do with writing from a male perspective. I've always had a lot of good male friends, which may have helped. What was much more difficult was writing from the perspective of someone as deeply messed up as Rob Ryan. His friends' disappearance and his loss of memory have sent cracks straight across his mind: he's unable to trust anything either around him or within him. At the point when the book begins, he's more or less functional ñ good at his job, sustaining at least one close friendship, basically happy—but as the case draws him back towards his past, those cracks widen and his mind starts to disintegrate. Trying to see the events of the book from that increasingly skewed perspective was an immense challenge.
Q. American readers who have a quaint vision of Ireland as a place of Old World traditions may be surprised to find that many of the cultural references in your novel come from distinctly American sources like The Simpsons and Sex and the City. Any comments on the prominence of these Americanisms, either in your writing or in Irish life itself?
There's always been a huge amount of cultural interplay between the United States and Ireland. For a long time now, it's been very difficult to write truthfully about Ireland without including some American cultural references—for people my parents' age, for example, watching cowboy films or dancing to Elvis were often defining experiences. The Irish historically have had an enormous appetite for every form of culture, and such a small country can't produce enough to meet that demand, so people here soak up American TV shows, films, books, and music. Transposed into an Irish context, those become part of our culture, too—they become part of that interplay. Take The Commitments: Roddy Doyle transposed very American music to a Dublin context to create an intensely Irish book, which then went back to America both in book form and in movie form.
I think it's probably impossible to have satellite TV and the Internet and still be quaint and Old World; that demands a level of cultural isolation that just doesn't exist here. When I referenced The Simpsons, for example, I wasn't even thinking of it as an American reference, because it's omnipresent here as well: everyone's watched it, everyone knows it, its catchphrases have become part of the language. The reality of Irish culture today is that it's not wholly indigenous; it's a fusion of homegrown elements and imported stuff, and it's all the richer for that.
Q. In the Woods takes a great deal of care to depict police procedures in an accurate, authentic fashion. In researching the novel, did you learn anything about detective work or criminal justice that especially surprised you or produced any singular revelations?
I was lucky enough to have the help of an amazing detective on the Irish police force who spent hours talking with me, answered an incredible variety of weird questions, and is responsible for basically everything in the book that's police-related and accurate. I did take some liberties, where the story required it—to take the most obvious example, there's no Murder squad in Ireland—but, apart from those, I tried to be as accurate as possible.
The thing that startled me most is how often detectives know exactly whodunit and can't do a thing about it. In detective novels (including mine) and TV series, almost all of the focus is on finding out who committed the murder. That's at the heart of the plot arc; that occupies about 99 percent of the detectives' time and energy, that's the moment of revelation that will transform everything. But one of the things I learned while I was researching is that, in reality, identifying the murderer is often the easy part. Once you've done that, you still have to get evidence that will stand up in court—and that can be a long, tangled, excruciating, and sometimes hopeless struggle. Often detectives are absolutely sure who committed a murder very early in the investigation, but they put months or years of work into trying to get the suspect to confess, trying to break his alibi, trying to find a piece of forensic evidence to link him to the crime—and sometimes nothing works, and they're left to watch him get away with it.
Q. A striking aspect of In the Woods is its bold resistance to many of the conventional expectations of the mystery genre. It's safe to say that some readers reach for mysteries because they crave the assurance of seeing detectives acting with cold-blooded confidence, problems being solved, and justice being done. In the Woods is not completely obliging on any of these counts. Did you set out to write such an iconoclastic book?
I've always been fascinated by the shape of the mystery novel. It's so clearly, cleanly defined: someone gets killed, and someone else finds out who did it. On the most basic level, In the Woods is faithful to that convention: there's a murder at the beginning, and over the course of the book Rob and Cassie find the killer. But my favorite mystery books have always been the ones that experiment with the boundaries of the genre: Donna Tartt's The Secret History (which is both my favorite literary novel and my favorite crime novel), where you find out on the first page who killed whom; Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair, a deeply unsettling study of a psychopath, where the villain is obvious almost from the start and the most serious crime is basically wasting police time; Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, where the guilty go free and the innocent pay for others' crimes. These books are set on the ragged edge where genre conventions meet reality—a reality in which people are flawed and contradictory, justice isn't always done, truth is a complicated thing, and the search for answers doesn't always have a happy ending. They're not as comforting as the tidier, more unequivocal books in which good triumphs and evil is punished, but they're the ones that capture me, the ones that stay in my mind. When I was writing In the Woods, I wasn't trying to be iconoclastic; I'm nowhere near that organized. I was just trying to write the kind of book I like to read.
Q. Having lost the companionship of his two vanished friends Jamie and Peter, Rob Ryan grows up to form another triumvirate with Cassie and Sam. Do you see Rob as sometimes striving more to repeat the past than to salvage and redeem it?
I think we all have unfinished patterns in our lives, patterns that we can't move beyond until we find a way to complete them. The pattern that was branded onto Rob's mind when he was twelve—the two loved and lost friends—is one of these: he comes back to it almost involuntarily. Once he's there, he can't or won't do anything to change the pattern—he's only dimly aware that changing it is even an option—and so he almost deliberately wrecks the triumvirate with Cassie and Sam, because that's the only thing he knows how to do with it. For him, the past and the present coexist: his past defines his present completely.
Q. What are some of your other thoughts about the psychological makeup of Rob Ryan? And what sources did you draw upon—psychiatric research, your experience as an actor, etc.—to bring his character into focus?
My wonderful editor, Kendra Harpster, once told me that Rob is the kind of guy whom you know you shouldn't get involved with; you know he's trouble; you know he's too badly damaged for a healthy relationship—but you want to get involved anyway. I think we've all known guys like that.
No psychiatric research—at least not for Rob, although I did a lot of research on psychopathology in order to make the killer as real as possible. Rob is messed up in a fairly individual way; I'm not sure it has an official diagnosis! For Rob, my main resource was probably my experience as an actor. For a long time now, it's been my job to create a three-dimensional character out of words on a page, and (touch wood) send the audience home feeling as if that character is a real person whom they actually know. A lot of people have told me that they feel that way about the characters in In the Woods, and it's the best compliment anyone can give me. When someone says that, I know I've done my job.
Q. In the Woods sounds a series of elegiac notes. Not only is Rob Ryan obviously shaken by the theft of his childhood, but the book as a whole mourns the passing of lost time, whether it be the more carefree Ireland of the 1980s or the remoter medieval era that the book's archaeologists are trying desperately to document. Is there any golden past for which you catch yourself yearning?
I catch myself missing the Dublin I moved to in 1990. Because almost nobody had money, back then, culture and conversation were our main currencies. We valued playwrights, poets, musicians, artists—even if they weren't contributing to the economy, they were contributing something priceless to the fabric of society. We valued fast wit, elegant language, creative swear words, in-depth arguments, long evenings in the pub laughing ourselves silly—even if they didn't generate revenue, they generated a sense of community that no amount of revenue can create.
Since then, Ireland's had an economic boom that has elevated money to the status of a god: the worth of any person, place, or industry is determined exclusively by how much money it generates. As a result, we seem to have basically nothing but money. People can afford SUVs but not homes; everyone's working so frenetically, and commuting so far, that no one has time for a family life, never mind a conversation and a laugh; as house prices skyrocket, people can't afford to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up, so communities are fragmenting; artists, unless they're massively successful, are treated like worthless spongers; theaters are being closed and heritage sites destroyed because they don't make enough money to count. We have all the luxuries, but we don't have the comforts and we don't have the essentials, and I miss them. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, though, so I keep an eye on that tendency. The Dublin I'm missing is one in which people were desperately poor, and unemployment and emigration were sky-high. It had its wonderful sides, but it was far from golden.
Q. In connection with her own near-molestation as a child, your detective Cassie Maddox observes that children find it almost impossible to resist the promise of marvels—the possibility of entering a magical world. Do you really think adults are all that different? Aren't most of us continually both ennobled and victimized by our willingness to believe and search for the fantastic?
I think that leap of belief, that capacity to respond to the mysterious unseen and unknown, is one of the most incredible human abilities—and how you respond to the unknown is one of the defining choices that make you what you are. That's a recurring thread in the book: how the different characters react when they have the chance to make that leap into an unknown world that could transform their lives forever, for better or for worse. Cassie, as in that childhood story, is willing to take huge risks for the chance of marvels. Rob isn't: every time he has the opportunity to take that leap, he runs as fast and as far as he can, and in the end that destroys him. On the other hand, there's one character who is destroyed—perhaps even more thoroughly—by his willingness to make that commitment to the unknown. Our ability to believe in marvels is an amazing thing; it's a crucial part of what makes us human, it's a crucial part of what makes life wonderful—but, like anything so important, it's dangerous and it doesn't come with guarantees.
Q. We don't want to give anything away, but the ending of In the Woods leaves a pretty humongous loose end still dangling. Is there any chance of a sequel that will tell us whether Rob Ryan solves the great remaining mystery of the story?
I'm currently working on a second book, which is linked to In the Woods without being exactly a sequel. The new book is told from Cassie Maddox's point of view, and it takes places six months after the events of In the Woods. I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still not sure how it's going to end. All I can say is that I'm not done with Rob Ryan.
- What do the woods represent symbolically in Tana French's novel? Does their significance change as the story progresses?
- The loss or absence of stable families is a recurring motif in In the Woods. How do French's characters, particularly Ryan, attempt to compensate for this absence?
- Does the Irish setting of In the Woods contribute significantly to the telling of the story, or do you find French's novel to be about humanity on a more universal level?
- How does Ryan's experience In the Woods at the age of twelve affect his ability to function as a detective? Is it always a hindrance to him, or are there ways in which it improves and deepens his insights?
- Cassie Maddox, Ryan's partner, is perhaps the most consistently appealing character in the novel. What are her most attractive qualities? What are the weaker points of her personality? Does Ryan ever fully appreciate her?
- After sleeping together, Ryan and Cassie cease to be friends. Why do you think the experience of physical intimacy is so damaging to their relationship? Are there other reasons why their friendship falls apart?
- Ryan states that he both craves truth and tells lies. How reliable to you find him as a narrator? In what ways does the theme of truth and misrepresentation lie at the heart of In the Woods?
- Imagine that you are Ryan's therapist. With what aspects of his personality would you most want to help him come to terms? Do you think there would be any way to lead him out of ìthe woods?î
- How convincing is French's explanation of the motivating forces that lead to Katy's murder—forces that come close to a definition of pure evil? Are such events and motivations ever truly explicable?
- The plan to build the new motorway, trampling as it does on a past that some regard as sacred, is an outrage to the archaeologists who are trying to preserve an ancient legacy. How does this conflict fit thematically with Ryan's own contradictory desires to unearth and to pave over his past?
- Do you have your own theories about the mysteries that remain unsolved at the end of In the Woods? What are they?
- What were your thoughts and emotions upon finishing In the Woods? If this book affected you differently from other mysteries you have read, why do you think this was true?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have to agree with many reviews posted. The book was overly descriptive about irrelevant details, whereas one of the biggest mysteries was never resolved (perhaps a sequel). The back story was just a red herring for the main event it seems, and was poorly intertwined. The fact that the ending wasn't a "happy" one made for an interesting read. I found myself liking the main character all the way through until the end, where the arguments between him and the female main character were borderline ridiculous. Could have been written better. All in all, interesting concept, and may be next time, less time should be spend on description of nature as oppossed to actually addressing the story. I can usually get through such a book in 2 days, this took nearly a month.
The first part of the book is what draws one in. Then the investigation pretty much goes nowhere, or in circles. There is an old mystery and a new one and both seem to be related. The old, and more intersting one, is never really solved. The new one is solved almost like an aside. I came to dislike the self-centered, whining protagonist and felt badly for his partners. I would not recommend this book as a good read.
This was a very good book that kept your interest throughout. The only criticism I have is that there were some issues that seemed paramount to the story that were never resolved. I hate when authors do that!
I turned the page and expected another chapter, but I was disappointed. The book was done. I felt completely dissatisfied. What I thought was the biggest mystery of the book remained unsolved, while the mystery that I considered the secondary story was solved and wrapped up tightly in a bow. The sad thing about this was that I was really enjoying this book. I want to slap the author for not giving me what I wanted. However, I'd recommend this book because I'd like to know what others think of it. Did I miss something? Was I in a fugue....???
I really enjoyed this book. Characters well developed, good plot. As to the resolution, I am of two minds. The allusions to 'something' in the woods was never resolved which bothered me more than the fact that the dissappearance was not explained, either. I am a sophisticated enough reader to understand when something is meant to be left to the imagination. But it would have been helpful to have some explanation.
I agree with many previous reviews, the descriptions were sometimes tedious and excessive. I found Rob, in the end to be whiny and annoying. The basic plot started out intriguing and then there were so many unfinished angles it lost its "thrill". I ended up finishing it only to be disappointed-what did happen "In the woods"? I can't believe we will never know. In an effort to find out, I started her second book, no mention of the woods but I am finding it to be a much better read-Cassie is a great character. Overall this one was very disappointing.
I really enjoy the author's writing style. I was drawn into the story almost immediately. However, there is one really disappointing thing in this book. Let's just say, a major piece of the story line is left unexplained. She seemed to have nailed setting up the story and building the characters, but the climax and finish were a bit lacking, in my amateur opinion. However, I did find myself enjoying the main characters enough to want to run out and get the second book...so hopefully that says enough about this book and the author's potential.
I really thought this book was going to be great but was disaappointed overall. The character development was fabulous however, the story line lacked the same magic. I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book so much that I just couldn't put it down. As the story moved along though, instead of gaining momentum it simply fizzled out. So too, did my interest. LOVED the charaters. The story, not so much.
I come late to Tana French, but no less eagerly. Her writing is lyrical, methodical, and evocative of all great Irish storytellers. Sure, no one does it more hauntingly than they, and Tana French should stand proud. I read it first for hunger's sake, and then again to savor the nuances, the twists and the deliciously hidden bits that seem so obvious. Sometimes in going into the wood, we can't see the forest. . . well, you know the rest. The story's end does not disappoint: it's all there---a dark, quick shadow.
The title and the haunting-like cover art of this book, "In the Woods," leads the reader to expect a sort of thriller. After reading the synopsis on the back cover, the reader is further intrigued by the idea of a psychological thriller to be unwound. However, the book takes the reader on a road of discovery along with the main character to solve a murder of a little girl that brings on suspicions of a link to a twenty-something-year-old case of three young children, where two mysteriously disappear and only one survives, the main character. The survivor, Adam Ryan, assigns himself to the case of the murdered girl to somehow solve his own forgotten history of that nightmarish day in the woods. Although the book's plot offers a few unexpected twists and turns in relation to the case of the murdered girl, it is more of a study of the main character and how he grew up dealing with this horrific event that stained his life and his search for answers. To some, this book may drag a little with irrelevant details, but it provides the reader of a clear picture of every step of the main character's thoughts and reasoning. This book does not necessarily end the way the synopsis leads one to believe, but it is an interesting journey with the main character in attempting to fill a void in the memory of his own past.
One of the more overrated novels I've read in the past 10 years. French has no ability to accurately write a first-person account from the perspective of a man. Very little of Adam/Ryan's interior monologue is believable, in that most men do not note a woman's ensemble/outfit or her vulnerability the first time they see her. As others have mentioned, a more serious and thorough editor would have chopped a couple thousand words from this an made it insanely better.
Complicated story and could not put it down. These is not an easy read with a happy ending, but the characters are fully formed and the story is engaging.
I absolutely love this book and its characters, the descriptions of Dublin and the areas around it. Tara French is an excellent Irish story-teller. While the ending was a bit of a surprise (I thought I'd missed something)I figured it would carry over into a next book.
But choose if you love richly drswn characters and great prose
I am an avid reader, but get tired of the same old crime/suspense books. I bought this book on sale, mostly because I liked the cover. I could not put it down! Half way though the book I found my copy was missing about 30 pages. I had to go back to B&N to exchange it, luckily they still had a couple copies left. I took it home and finished it the next day. Usually I can figure out "who dun it" about half way through a book but this one kept me guessing until the end. I have to give the author credit for being brave enough to write an "unhappy" ending. It was a breath of fresh air. The only predicable part of the book was how the relationship between the two detectives would end. I would recommend this book to anyone would likes crime/mystery fiction, but would like to try something a little different. I loved it and will definately re-read it!!
In the Woods is a fantastic read. The story is about Katy Devlin, a twelve year old girl, who is found murdered on a nearby archaeological site. The detectives assigned to the case are fairly new, and one has a strange attachment to the site she was found. In fact, when he was a twelve year old boy, he lived by that same wood, and his two friends went missing and were never found. Was it a murder that stems back to that time twenty years ago? Was it an unrelated act of sexual abuse? The mystery unfolds as the novel sends you into many different ways of thinking. The end may surprise you, if not, keep you wanting more!
I read this entire book only to be disappointed at the end. It was left so wide open. I felt cheated. I spent time reading this book, only to be left with the thought, "That's it".
I did like the story line, characters, and flow of the book. There were mixed plots, and it ended with too many unanswered questions.
I do not see myself recommending this book to my friends or family.
The reviewers almost w/o exception have missed the point of this book. Maybe they should stay w Sue Grafton and authors like her.
Amazing! Seriously, I did not want this book to end. Gorgeous and insightful; the conclusion hit me like a freight train. I will be reading more by this author! If you liked this book, I would also recommend: A Place of Execution, by Val McDermid, and End in Tears by Ruth Rendell.
Its a slow start but this series has definitely caught my attention. Its a great suspense series!!
The surprise in this book is not how the mystery story unfolds but the book's change in focus. It turns away from the mystery and is more about the emotional struggles of one of the main detectives in the story. It is not the most sophisticated psychological analysis of the character, but it isn't cheesy either.
If you're looking for a twisted, atmospheric police procedural - and don't mind being left with more questions than answers - this title is for you. The premise is an irresistible hook for mystery/suspense fans: as a young boy, Detective Rob Ryan was found in the eponymous woods catatonic, his shoes filled with blood, and the playmates who had accompanied him seemingly gone without a trace. 20 years later, Ryan has never regained memory of what happened that night. Now, with his partner Cassie Maddox, he is investigating the death of 12-year-old Katy Devlin found in the same woods. The story - part crime documentary, part psychological character analysis - is beautifully written, French's characters multidimensional and realistic. There are few lulls in pace as the story leaps between Katy's murder, Ryan's own struggle with his past, and the friendship between Ryan and Cassie. Both investigations are compelling and twisted, though by the ending the plot seems rife with red herrings and misdirection: leads that take up space but amount to little to nothing, and descriptions that hit a wall. However, the story moves with such suspenseful drive and pulls you into such a rich, believable world that these flaws can be easily overlooked. Be forewarned that, despite intriguing clues that hint at resolution, the details of Ryan's past are never fully revealed. This is the biggest disappointment of the novel, but is perhaps a fitting ending for a story that is much more about the characters themselves than what happens to them.
Too much was unfinished. Im shocked this is on b and n top 100 list.
This isnt fair u never find out what happened to the kids a waste of time
I read this book when it was first published five years ago. I found it really compelling. True there are many descriptive passages and details, but I found that to add to the enjoyable complexity of the entire book. This is not your average who-done-it with a quick and easy read. It is dense reading, but well-written....more reminiscent of the density of Gillian Flynn or Wally Lamb. Readers who like that kind of close, intricate writing will enjoy this book.