In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1)

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1)

3.6 776
by Tana French

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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… See more details below

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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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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
… [French] sets a vivid scene for her complex characters, who seem entirely capable of doing the unexpected. Drawn by the grim nature of her plot and the lyrical ferocity of her writing, even smart people who should know better will be able to lose themselves in these dark woods.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her debut. When Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl from Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb, is found murdered at a local archeological dig, Det. Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, must probe deep into the victim's troubled family history. There are chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and the disappearance 20 years before of two children from the same neighborhood who were Ryan's best friends. Only Maddox knows Ryan was involved in the 1984 case. The plot climaxes with a taut interrogation by Maddox of a potential suspect, and the reader is floored by the eventual identity and motives of the killer. A distracting political subplot involves a pending motorway in Knocknaree, but Ryan and Maddox are empathetic and flawed heroes, whose partnership and friendship elevate the narrative beyond a gory tale of murdered children and repressed childhood trauma. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Three children wander into some woods near Dublin, but only one is found, hysterical and bloodied. Some 20 years later, he's a detective investigating a child's murder in the same woods. Lots of in-house excitement, though one wonders whether Coben (see The Woods, above) and French have talked. With a reading group guide. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The discovery of a body near a spooky wood forces a murder-squad detective in Ireland to confront his own horrific past, in an engrossing if melancholy debut. This mystery, heavy on psycho-drama, is set in the Dublin suburb of Knocknaree and is the first in a sequence to feature detectives Cassie Maddox and Adam Ryan. Adam has hidden his secret from everyone in the police force except his partner and best friend Cassie. She alone knows that he was the surviving child of three who went missing in the wood in 1984. Adam was found clinging to a tree, his shoes full of blood; there was no trace of his pals Peter and Jamie, nor could Adam remember a thing. Now, 20 years on, Katy Devlin's battered body has been found by the same wood, where an archaeological dig is in progress, under threat from plans for a new road. The investigation-Operation Vestal-evokes queasy sensations and flashes of recollection in Adam. The relationship with Cassie goes awry after the two sleep together. Adam eventually solves the Katy Devlin murder, but in this meditation on lost innocence, psychopathology and fear, his success is ruined when his own history emerges, leading to demotion. When not lengthily bogged down in angst, a readable, non-formulaic police procedural with a twist. It's ultimately the confession of a damaged man. Agent: Darley Anderson/Darley Anderson Agency

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Dublin Murder Squad Series , #1
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


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.

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What People are saying about this

Lisa Unger
With her utterly beautiful and brilliantly evocative prose, Tana French invites us into a murky netherworld so seductive and engrossing that we can't turn away, even when we try. Ms. French is an extraordinary writer and In The Woods is a stellar debut. (Lisa Unger, author of the New York Times bestseller Beautiful Lies and Sliver Of Truth)
Kelly Braffet
Tana French's In the Woods is tangled, dark, and impossible to put down. With a story like a freight train and characters so vivid that I found myself wondering what they were doing while I wasn't reading it, it's one of the best books I've read this year. In fact, it's so good that I wish I'd written it - it's absolutely brilliant. (Kelly Braffet, author of Last Seen Leaving and Josie And Jack)
Lisa Dierbeck
From the first chapter on, In the Woods lures the reader into sinister terrain. This is classic, cinematic suspense. I read it with sweaty palms and a racing heart. Tana French has the natural storytelling gift of a young du Maurier. The taut pacing evokes Hitchcock. Keep the lights on and pour yourself two shots of scotch. (Lisa Dierbeck, author of One Pill Makes You Smaller)

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