Monday, 26 September 2016

In The Woods by Tana French

 
published 2007
 
 
In the Woods 4In the Woods 3
In the Woods 1In the Woods 2


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…

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 soupcon 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 soupcons.


commentary: Oh what a failure. No, not the book – it is I who am a failure. Having loved Tana French's The Secret Place and the newly-published The Trespasser, I am supposed to be rationing out those of her books I haven’t read yet, to make the joy last longer. So I downloaded this one to my Kindle, to have in reserve, for some future moment. I have review books, and promises, and commitments, and many many books to read – Tana can wait for a while.

Only she can’t. I read it, swallowed it down at a great speed, and have already downloaded the next one. Oh dear oh dear: I am going to run out of books by her quite soon…

This was her first, and must have exploded onto the crime scene like a grenade – I remember hearing about it, and can’t imagine why I didn’t read it then.

It’s a police procedural set in the Dublin Murder Squad (as are all her books) and features the murder of a 12-year old girl at a small town outside the city. The narrator and his female partner set out to investigate, but the narrator has a secret: he comes from the same place, and has a parallel story in his childhood – he survived a still-unsolved incident in which his two best friends disappeared.

It is, admittedly, a lot to swallow that he takes up the case without telling anyone this, and it is unthinkable that he could take such a major part in the new investigation, or think that the story won’t come out. But once you get past this, the book is absolutely compelling, long and satisfying (98%) and highly entertaining. The relationship between the two lead officers is very well done. At times I thought ‘hang on…’ but on the whole French is ahead of the reader – certain things will become obvious is all I’m saying. I didn’t have any trouble working out the outline of the murder, but the details were sufficiently unguessable to keep my interest. I would have had a few questions for French and her narrator at the end…

The ending is very controversial if you look online: many people were disappointed, even devastated by a certain lack of resolution. I found it uncomfortable, but can understand that the author was trying to do something specific. I would definitely have liked more information.

As ever, there is a lovely, funny, colloquial feel to it. I liked the senior policeman whose marriage has broken up:
The grapevine had picked up a series of awkward attempts at relationships, including one spectacularly unsuccessful blind date where the woman turned out to be an ex-hooker he had arrested regularly in his Vice days.
.. and the gentle introduction of a supernatural element:
‘She always said it was the pooka took them.’
This one took me by surprise. The pooka is an ancient child-scarer out of legend, a wild mischief-making descendant of Pan and ancestor of Puck. He had not been on Kiernan and McCabe’s list of persons of interest.
An absolutely brilliant thriller, one that kept me reading for hours when I should have been doing other things.

There are more books by Tana French, but don’t expect any more reviews soon. Of course I am going to be able to hold off from reading them soon, I have the willpower…

Last year I had a similar reaction to Ariana Franklin’s Adelia books – the setting of her crime novels (12th century Europe) couldn’t be more different, but I loved them and read them all in a short space of time.
















16 comments:

  1. There are definitely authors like that, Moira - authors whose work you can't resist no matter your resolve. I'm very glad you liked this one as well as you did. And you're right; it did get a lot of attention in the crime fiction world when it first came out. Have you read French's The Likeness yet? I wonder what you'll think of that if you haven't.

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    1. The Likeness is next on my list Margot - I'm trying to hold out. I don't know why I didn't catch on to French earlier, when all my fellow-fans did!

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  2. I am also a big fan of her books--and The Likeness is my favorite so far.

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    1. OK, so none of you are HELPING me in my aim to ration out the books. Let's see how long I can hold out before starting it. And therefore finishing it a short time later...

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  3. Moira: North American police on duty but not wearing uniforms are called plain clothes officers for good reason. You would have to search hard to find officers dressed as well as in your photos and the book.

    At the same time those ties, except for the red striped tie, are not worthy of the suits.

    I would think those stylish officers in the book were more likely wearing a paisley tie/pocket square/cuff link combination such as:
    https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSQTJJBFVFEPQRUapP2aDpe1FASspo-0r3gBw2_nmnXxWP6t-Ix
    or going to a retro 20's vintage look such as:
    https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR7RXY_IYdb-fSmtflK4R6L5GsUTGUAt7rKbMRNJouHxVO8BG-9Zg

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    1. Well I certainly know that in films and TV programmes they always look very casual indeed - leather jackets and jeans. Definitely not sharp dressers.
      Love the pictures you link to, some lovely ones there - I agree that they would be good choices...

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    2. Bill -- Yes. I found myself wondering what the entry level pay is for members of the murder squad. Granted, I live in the country, but the few LEOs I know aren't exactly in a position to drop wads of cash on fancy suits.

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    3. I will say that although it is hard to imagine their being very wealthy, the question of the pay and finances of the murder squad detectives is an issue in the investigation... French is trying!

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  4. Oh, on a Tana French craze. I get it. I have read all of her Murder Squad except the new one which hasn't reached my library system yet.

    I liked In the Woods a lot, and that started me on the path of reading all of her books. The Likeness was riveting -- don't expect to get anything done while you're reading it. Also, Faithful Place is another unputdownable book.

    The main characters are so well-written and the plotting is fine. I thought Broken Harbor got repetitious and wordy, and could have used more editing.

    But she, in addition to a few others, is among my favorite writers, and I'll never miss one of her books.

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    1. The Likeness is next! I'm always trying to analyse what makes a book unputdownable, but can't work it out. But whatever it is, Tana French has it in spades.

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  5. Well you have definitely motivated me to pull out the two books by Tana French that I have and read them... or at least the 2nd in the series. I did read this one in 2012 and it was one of my top ten books of the year.

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    1. Don't pull them down if you expect to be doing anything else! I really find them compelling.

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  6. My wife tried her once and was a DNF, so I got rid of her books. Can't remember which it was or what I had, but no regrets.

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    1. I'm surprised, she's the best new crime author I've found this year, and very down and dirty. Can't persuade either of you to try another one...?

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    2. Maybe I'll trawl through her books on Fantastic Fiction and have another look. I didn't really pay too much attention, as the ones I bought I got for my wife and she wasn't impressed.

      Though I'm hardly hurting for something to read now.

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    3. That's true - I don't want to be responsible for your wasting valuable reading time when you have so much in the tubs.

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