In The Woods

By Tana French

Book cover: In The WoodsI really liked this book: it has a plot that I couldn’t anticipate and building suspense that I couldn’t put down, and the characters are where it really shines. The narrating detective’s female partner, especially, is tough, smart, and likable, and that’s a lot less common than it should be. My favorite passages of the book just follow the various officers working through the minutiae of the investigation. However, there were a couple of issues that kept me from loving it:

First, a pet peeve: I just hate foreshadowing. I know that is an important writing device for building suspense, but I hate it when the narrator says stuff like, “if only I knew then where this would all lead” or “at the time I was so sure I was right.” I just hate it, and this book was chock full of it. I will say that French put it to better service in this novel than I’ve seen in used before, but it still didn’t make me like it. I prefer to advance through the story at the same time as the narrator, and see missteps retroactively as well.

Second, from the very beginning, even on the back cover blurb (so this isn’t a spoiler; the full plot spoiler follows below the cut), it is known that the narrating detective’s past is related to this new crime. Though the book primarily focuses on the present-day murder, the cold case, with the same setting and similar victims, runs as a parallel undercurrent. Our narrator knows he shouldn’t be working this case, but he is obsessed and becomes increasingly unbalanced throughout the book. French does a very good job of subtly depicting his unraveling mentality, and I gradually began losing patience with his growing belligerence and incompetence and all-encompassing self-involvement.

So, I found the actual reading of the book a bit more a chore than I like in my for-fun books, but the twist ending (which I couldn’t even guess at) made it all worth-while, and I want to bring it up because I want to gasp over it with other readers, specifically Kinsey, who recommended it to me and mentions the second and fourth in the series here.

WARNING: I’m seriously spoiling the entire mystery in the following paragraph. Pet peeves aside, I really do recommend this book if you like the grittier-type murder mysteries and suspense, and if you haven’t already read it, you should check it out without my spoiler.

All set? I assume you have read the book if you are continuing to read this.

So, I actually wanted to include this review in my previous listing of Femme Fatales but couldn’t figure out a way that the inclusion itself wouldn’t be just one huge spoiler. In comparison with those two books, French has written the most shocking and chilling femme fatale it has ever been my pleasure to run across, putting Pronzini and even Miller to shame. I’d been quite pleased with Miller’s Dame, and still am, but she’s got nothing to French’s femme.

I didn’t guess it at all, just because it seemed so far-fetched, though French had laid enough clues in the process that after the big reveal, it seemed a fitting and natural conclusion. Isn’t that seriously what mystery authors aspire to?

—Anna

2 comments on “In The Woods

  1. Kinsey says:

    I’m so glad you liked this! I never see the endings of books coming, so it’s not high praise from me, but I can never guess where he books are going. I think In The Woods might actually be my least favorite of her books, largely because I remain annoyed about the unsolved mystery of the main character–how can we not know! And I agree that he was a bit annoying.

    But I think I said in that post you linked to that my favorite of hers is The Likeness, and it is entirely centered on the awesome female partner, so I bet you’ll like that one even more.

    • Anna says:

      I completely agree: I really respected the author’s decision not to solve the cold case since that is more realistic, but it was definitely unsatisfying as a reader. I’ll definitely have to give The Likeness a try because I really liked the female partner, as well as her boyfriend.

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