Monday, August 27, 2007

Off Topic Novel: In The Woods

In the Woods, Tana French, Viking Press, 429 pages,$24.95

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller and part fictional biography, In the Woods is a stunning demonstration of style and nuance by Tana French. Set in Dublin, Ireland the novel focuses on two crimes, nearly three decades apart. The murders occur at the same location, a wooded area that is a playground refuge and also an early Celt archaeological site.

The victims are four children one of which survives. The survivor, as an adult investigates the second, contemporary murder. Rob Ryan, the survivor, lost all memories of his childhood that occurred before the first attack. As his childhood is hidden from him, he has hidden his conflicted past from the police administrators for whom he works. An encroaching highway interchange in the semi-rural community of Knocknaree upsets the delicate balance of community and forest, ancient and contemporary pasts.

The second murder tears apart a family that well hides its dysfunctions. The death of 12 year old Katie Devlin, calls forth memories a 20 year old rape, the manipulations a psychopath and the mischief of local government corruption. Detective Ryan, the child survivor and now adult detective, and Cassie Maddox, psychology grad school drop out and undercover detective, develop both a partnership and friendship that is unique. It is the depth of these characters and those around that that is the chief strength of In The Woods. Murders and memories, psychological pressure and corrupt politics, rise above a story which could have tumbled into a tabloid-like bestseller. The real strengths of the novel is the smart craft and on-the-money metaphors Tana French uses in her memorable first novel of adults dealing with their pasts that contain violence, anger, and resolute wills to survive.

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