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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The debut novel of an astonishing voice in psychological suspense

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,…  See more details below


The debut novel of an astonishing voice in psychological suspense

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A 12-year-old girl is found murdered at an archaeological site at the center of a controversial highway construction project. Katy Devlin was a popular girl who had recently been accepted to the Royal Ballet School; her father is an outspoken opponent of the new roadway. But what haunts Detective Rob Ryan about this case is its location: the quiet town of Knocknaree, Ireland -- in the very woods where he used to play as a child.

Twenty years ago, a young Rob and his two best friends went into the woods, chasing each other, playing in a castle of ruins. But they didn't return to their homes at sunset. A search party was dispatched to canvas the woods, finding only a catatonic Rob clawing at a tree, his clothing ripped, his shoes filled with blood.

Detective Ryan has always guarded this secret of his past, but the recent murder forces him to reveal it to his new partner, drawing them closer together in the search for the perpetrator. Is there a connection between Rob's childhood trauma and Katy Devlin's murder? And is Detective Ryan prepared to confront the secrets that lie deep in those woods? Suspects abound in this fast-paced mystery -- a stunning debut that examines the complexities of the human mind and the cost of discovering the truth. (Fall 2007 Selection)

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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In the Woods 3.6 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 776 reviews.
SkatesNYC More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with many reviews posted. The book was overly descriptive about irrelevant details, whereas one of the biggest mysteries was never resolved (perhaps a sequel). The back story was just a red herring for the main event it seems, and was poorly intertwined. The fact that the ending wasn't a "happy" one made for an interesting read. I found myself liking the main character all the way through until the end, where the arguments between him and the female main character were borderline ridiculous. Could have been written better. All in all, interesting concept, and may be next time, less time should be spend on description of nature as oppossed to actually addressing the story. I can usually get through such a book in 2 days, this took nearly a month.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first part of the book is what draws one in. Then the investigation pretty much goes nowhere, or in circles. There is an old mystery and a new one and both seem to be related. The old, and more intersting one, is never really solved. The new one is solved almost like an aside. I came to dislike the self-centered, whining protagonist and felt badly for his partners. I would not recommend this book as a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book that kept your interest throughout. The only criticism I have is that there were some issues that seemed paramount to the story that were never resolved. I hate when authors do that!
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
I turned the page and expected another chapter, but I was disappointed. The book was done. I felt completely dissatisfied. What I thought was the biggest mystery of the book remained unsolved, while the mystery that I considered the secondary story was solved and wrapped up tightly in a bow. The sad thing about this was that I was really enjoying this book. I want to slap the author for not giving me what I wanted. However, I'd recommend this book because I'd like to know what others think of it. Did I miss something? Was I in a fugue....???
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Characters well developed, good plot. As to the resolution, I am of two minds. The allusions to 'something' in the woods was never resolved which bothered me more than the fact that the dissappearance was not explained, either. I am a sophisticated enough reader to understand when something is meant to be left to the imagination. But it would have been helpful to have some explanation.
lisam More than 1 year ago
I agree with many previous reviews, the descriptions were sometimes tedious and excessive. I found Rob, in the end to be whiny and annoying. The basic plot started out intriguing and then there were so many unfinished angles it lost its "thrill". I ended up finishing it only to be disappointed-what did happen "In the woods"? I can't believe we will never know. In an effort to find out, I started her second book, no mention of the woods but I am finding it to be a much better read-Cassie is a great character. Overall this one was very disappointing.
TWG More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy the author's writing style. I was drawn into the story almost immediately. However, there is one really disappointing thing in this book. Let's just say, a major piece of the story line is left unexplained. She seemed to have nailed setting up the story and building the characters, but the climax and finish were a bit lacking, in my amateur opinion. However, I did find myself enjoying the main characters enough to want to run out and get the second hopefully that says enough about this book and the author's potential.
nookaholic More than 1 year ago
I really thought this book was going to be great but was disaappointed overall. The character development was fabulous however, the story line lacked the same magic. I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book so much that I just couldn't put it down. As the story moved along though, instead of gaining momentum it simply fizzled out. So too, did my interest. LOVED the charaters. The story, not so much.
witchbynight More than 1 year ago
I come late to Tana French, but no less eagerly. Her writing is lyrical, methodical, and evocative of all great Irish storytellers. Sure, no one does it more hauntingly than they, and Tana French should stand proud. I read it first for hunger's sake, and then again to savor the nuances, the twists and the deliciously hidden bits that seem so obvious. Sometimes in going into the wood, we can't see the forest. . . well, you know the rest. The story's end does not disappoint: it's all there---a dark, quick shadow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The title and the haunting-like cover art of this book, "In the Woods," leads the reader to expect a sort of thriller. After reading the synopsis on the back cover, the reader is further intrigued by the idea of a psychological thriller to be unwound. However, the book takes the reader on a road of discovery along with the main character to solve a murder of a little girl that brings on suspicions of a link to a twenty-something-year-old case of three young children, where two mysteriously disappear and only one survives, the main character. The survivor, Adam Ryan, assigns himself to the case of the murdered girl to somehow solve his own forgotten history of that nightmarish day in the woods. Although the book's plot offers a few unexpected twists and turns in relation to the case of the murdered girl, it is more of a study of the main character and how he grew up dealing with this horrific event that stained his life and his search for answers. To some, this book may drag a little with irrelevant details, but it provides the reader of a clear picture of every step of the main character's thoughts and reasoning. This book does not necessarily end the way the synopsis leads one to believe, but it is an interesting journey with the main character in attempting to fill a void in the memory of his own past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Complicated story and could not put it down. These is not an easy read with a happy ending, but the characters are fully formed and the story is engaging.
Avid_readerRF More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book and its characters, the descriptions of Dublin and the areas around it. Tara French is an excellent Irish story-teller. While the ending was a bit of a surprise (I thought I'd missed something)I figured it would carry over into a next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But choose if you love richly drswn characters and great prose
tishO More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader, but get tired of the same old crime/suspense books. I bought this book on sale, mostly because I liked the cover. I could not put it down! Half way though the book I found my copy was missing about 30 pages. I had to go back to B&N to exchange it, luckily they still had a couple copies left. I took it home and finished it the next day. Usually I can figure out "who dun it" about half way through a book but this one kept me guessing until the end. I have to give the author credit for being brave enough to write an "unhappy" ending. It was a breath of fresh air. The only predicable part of the book was how the relationship between the two detectives would end. I would recommend this book to anyone would likes crime/mystery fiction, but would like to try something a little different. I loved it and will definately re-read it!!
yum More than 1 year ago
In the Woods is a fantastic read. The story is about Katy Devlin, a twelve year old girl, who is found murdered on a nearby archaeological site. The detectives assigned to the case are fairly new, and one has a strange attachment to the site she was found. In fact, when he was a twelve year old boy, he lived by that same wood, and his two friends went missing and were never found. Was it a murder that stems back to that time twenty years ago? Was it an unrelated act of sexual abuse? The mystery unfolds as the novel sends you into many different ways of thinking. The end may surprise you, if not, keep you wanting more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this entire book only to be disappointed at the end. It was left so wide open. I felt cheated. I spent time reading this book, only to be left with the thought, "That's it".

I did like the story line, characters, and flow of the book. There were mixed plots, and it ended with too many unanswered questions.

I do not see myself recommending this book to my friends or family.
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
Amazing! Seriously, I did not want this book to end. Gorgeous and insightful; the conclusion hit me like a freight train. I will be reading more by this author! If you liked this book, I would also recommend: A Place of Execution, by Val McDermid, and End in Tears by Ruth Rendell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its a slow start but this series has definitely caught my attention. Its a great suspense series!!
SmithDoug More than 1 year ago
One of the more overrated novels I've read in the past 10 years. French has no ability to accurately write a first-person account from the perspective of a man. Very little of Adam/Ryan's interior monologue is believable, in that most men do not note a woman's ensemble/outfit or her vulnerability the first time they see her. As others have mentioned, a more serious and thorough editor would have chopped a couple thousand words from this an made it insanely better.
magsco More than 1 year ago
The surprise in this book is not how the mystery story unfolds but the book's change in focus. It turns away from the mystery and is more about the emotional struggles of one of the main detectives in the story. It is not the most sophisticated psychological analysis of the character, but it isn't cheesy either.
1kerfuffle More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a twisted, atmospheric police procedural - and don't mind being left with more questions than answers - this title is for you. The premise is an irresistible hook for mystery/suspense fans: as a young boy, Detective Rob Ryan was found in the eponymous woods catatonic, his shoes filled with blood, and the playmates who had accompanied him seemingly gone without a trace. 20 years later, Ryan has never regained memory of what happened that night. Now, with his partner Cassie Maddox, he is investigating the death of 12-year-old Katy Devlin found in the same woods. The story - part crime documentary, part psychological character analysis - is beautifully written, French's characters multidimensional and realistic. There are few lulls in pace as the story leaps between Katy's murder, Ryan's own struggle with his past, and the friendship between Ryan and Cassie. Both investigations are compelling and twisted, though by the ending the plot seems rife with red herrings and misdirection: leads that take up space but amount to little to nothing, and descriptions that hit a wall. However, the story moves with such suspenseful drive and pulls you into such a rich, believable world that these flaws can be easily overlooked. Be forewarned that, despite intriguing clues that hint at resolution, the details of Ryan's past are never fully revealed. This is the biggest disappointment of the novel, but is perhaps a fitting ending for a story that is much more about the characters themselves than what happens to them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too much was unfinished. Im shocked this is on b and n top 100 list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This isnt fair u never find out what happened to the kids a waste of time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when it was first published five years ago. I found it really compelling. True there are many descriptive passages and details, but I found that to add to the enjoyable complexity of the entire book. This is not your average who-done-it with a quick and easy read. It is dense reading, but well-written....more reminiscent of the density of Gillian Flynn or Wally Lamb. Readers who like that kind of close, intricate writing will enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good development of characters. Sorry it came to an end. Ready for more!