In The Woods was one of several crime fiction novels that I picked up in a 3-for-£5 promotion at The Works. It was written back in 2007 and was Tana French's debut novel and the first in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I'd already read and reviewed Faithful Place, the third book in the series, several years ago, but each book deals with a different case and often completely different police characters, so they can all be enjoyed as stand-alone novels.
In The Woods deals with the brutal murder of a twelve-year-old girl, Katy Devlin, whose battered body is discovered on an ancient altar, part of an archaeological dig site, that is soon to be turned into a motorway. Her father is leading the protest to move the motorway, which could be why she was targetted but, as in all such cases, her father is also a suspect.
To make things even more complicated, the detectives investigating the case are Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan ... or Adam as he was known as a child, and he experienced traumatic events of his own in these very same woods, when two of his friends vanished and he was discovered drenched in blood with no recollection of what had happened. Are the two incidents related, or will investigating one help unlock memories of the other?
Despite the slight change of name, I found it hard to believe that nobody would recognise Rob, given the media coverage that the suspicious disappearance of two children would have attracted. I also found that the early part of the novel dragged on, with not much happening for quite some time. I soon realised, however, that the novel is as much about Rob's psychological development and his complicated relationship with Cassie as it is about solving the Katy Devlin case. For the second half of the novel, when the pieces of the puzzle started clicking into place and the pace picked up, I was totally hooked and couldn't wait to find out how things would come together.
I was slightly disappointed that the original case, featuring Rob and his childhood friends, is never solved or explained, despite his best efforts to jolt his memory back into place, but ultimately, this fits in with his psychological profile - whether in relationships or when he finds himself on the cusp of recovering his memory, Rob's subconscious reaction is to run away. The Katy Devlin case is nicely wrapped up though, with a satisfyingly unexpected and chilling conclusion.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £6.99