In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1) [NOOK Book]


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 ...
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In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1)

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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, 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

From Barnes & Noble
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)
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

  • ISBN-13: 9781101147153
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/17/2007
  • Series: Dublin Murder Squad Series, #1
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 4,212
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Tana French

Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the United States, and Malawi. She is the author of In the Woods (winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry awards), The LikenessFaithful Place,  Broken Harbor (winner of the LA Times prize for Best Mystery/Thriller) and The Secret Place. She lives in Dublin with her husband and two children. 
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Read an Excerpt

1What 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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Reading Group Guide

Much more than a gripping police procedural, Tana French's debut novel offers readers a stunning look into the dark recesses of the human heart and a brooding reflection on the evils that are sometimes just a breath away. As a newly anointed murder-squad detective in Dublin, Ireland, Rob Ryan solves mysteries for a living. Yet only a handful of people know that a generation earlier Ryan himself stood at the center of one of the most tantalizing unsolved cases in the recent annals of Irish crime. At the age of twelve, then known as Adam Ryan, he and two playmates wandered into a wood near his home in the town of Knocknaree. Hours after being reported missing, Adam was found unhurt but standing in a pair of blood-soaked sneakers, so deeply traumatized that he could not recall a single detail of what had happened. The two other children were never found.

Ryan has spent twenty years trying to bury his past, but if his line of work has shown him anything it is that some secrets refuse to remain hidden. His long-stifled anxieties abruptly surface when the battered body of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin is discovered in the same woods where Ryan had lost his friends and his innocence. When Ryan's partner Cassie Maddox volunteers herself and Ryan to take the case, Ryan embarks on a treacherous odyssey through repressed memories and contemporary horror. At the same time that he and Cassie become the best hope for bringing Katy's murderer to justice, Ryan nurses his personal hope that he may, at last, find the keys to unlock his own decades-old mystery. While investigating Katy's strangely inward-looking family and the political intrigues surrounding a local highway project, Rob and Cassie develop some promising leads in the Devlin murder. However, as the investigation also brings Rob closer to resurrecting his own most disturbing moments, he finds his hopes of killing two birds with one stone dissolving into confusion. Trying to recover what was stolen from him so long ago, Rob begins to risk losing everything of value that he still has—his professional reputation, his closest friendships, and his mental well-being.

A first-time author who writes like a seasoned veteran, Tana French populates her psychological thriller with deftly drawn, unforgettable characters, from Rob's brilliant and magnetic partner, Cassie, to Katy's overprotective and evasive parents to Mark Hanly, the passionate young archaeologist whose very life is devoted to buried truths. Always at the center of the story, however, is Rob Ryan himself—keenly intelligent, outwardly brash and confident, but far more fundamentally wounded and incomplete than appearances reveal. In the dark, deceptive world of In the Woods, many of the hardest questions depend upon a single query: will Rob's attempts to regain his inner equilibrium finally throw his life, his friends, and the Devlin investigation out of balance forever?


Born in Vermont, Tana French had a peripatetic childhood that took her to Florence and Rome, as well as the African nation of Malawi. A resident of Dublin since 1990, she has a degree in drama and English from Trinity College. Prior to writing In the Woods, she was best known as an actor in a wide variety of theatrical productions in Dublin.

Q. You had an unusually globetrotting childhood, with stops in Italy and Malawi. We're guessing that as a schoolgirl in Malawi, like Adam Ryan in Knocknaree, you may have had some experiences with wild, forbidden places. Does Adam's evening of terror In the Woods correlate to anything you encountered or were warned to avoid in the African subtropics?

I think every child's world has wild places where dark things might be waiting, places where the borderline of normal reality seems to fracture. For me, living in Malawi probably gave those places and those dark things a more tangible, more vivid form than they might have had if I'd been growing up in Vermont or in Dublin. Right outside our backyard was the bush, a whole savage and mysterious and potentially lethal world just a thin wire fence away. I could hear hyenas whooping out there at night, cobras slid into our backyard, when the local medicine men held their ceremonies I heard the drumming and chanting. (And yes, I was warned to avoid all this stuff, but I was the kind of kid who always got a few steps closer than my parents ever knew). But I think that sense of wild danger just a few steps away is a presence for every child; the locus of that danger might be the space under the bed, the basement, or the spooky shortcut that no one wants to take, but it's always there.

Q. In addition to becoming an author, you have acquired a strong reputation as an actor. Why do you think In the Woodscame out of you in the shape of a novel, instead of a script or a screenplay?

This may sound strange, but writing In the Woods as a novel was actually a lot closer to acting than writing a script or a screenplay would have been. The book is first person—everything is seen through Rob Ryan's eyes, filtered through his perceptions and described in his voice. That was my job as an actor for years: to create a character and spend hours a day operating completely from her perspective. Writing In the Woods was just an extension of that process. I played Rob Ryan for almost two years—on paper, rather than on stage, but the mental process was the same. To write the story as a script or a screenplay, I would have needed to work from a much more detached point of view, coming at it as an all-seeing outsider rather than as a character experiencing the story from inside, and I don't have a clue how to do that. Working from inside is all I know.

Q.You write about archaeology as if you've been there. Should we assume that the archaeological dig in your novel is more than just a storytelling convenience?

I've always been fascinated by archaeology (when I was little I was going to be an archaeologist and discover Troy, till I found out that someone had already done that), and I've actually worked on two archaeological digs. The second one was where I got the idea for In the Woods. There was a wood not far from the dig, and one day I thought, What if three kids went in there to play and only one came out, and he had no memory of what had happened? So the idea of a dig as the setting worked its way into the book almost without me realizing it. I left it there because it seemed to fit on several levels. For one thing, that tense, discordant relationship between past and present is very much a part of the book. Also, the archaeologist's job is a lot like the detective's: they're both presented with the end result of a series of events, and they have to work their way backwards from there to figure out what happened.

Q. To tell the story of In the Woods, you have transgendered your voice; you speak to us through the male persona of Rob Ryan. Why did you opt for a male narrator, and did you encounter any particular challenges in adopting a masculine perspective?

Almost as soon as I thought of the basic premise of the book, the character of Rob Ryan came into my head: intelligent, sarcastic, secretive, proud, too badly damaged to be honest either with himself or with his readers—and male. It was never a conscious choice; that's just how he popped up.

I didn't run into any particular difficulties to do with writing from a male perspective. I've always had a lot of good male friends, which may have helped. What was much more difficult was writing from the perspective of someone as deeply messed up as Rob Ryan. His friends' disappearance and his loss of memory have sent cracks straight across his mind: he's unable to trust anything either around him or within him. At the point when the book begins, he's more or less functional ñ good at his job, sustaining at least one close friendship, basically happy—but as the case draws him back towards his past, those cracks widen and his mind starts to disintegrate. Trying to see the events of the book from that increasingly skewed perspective was an immense challenge.

Q. American readers who have a quaint vision of Ireland as a place of Old World traditions may be surprised to find that many of the cultural references in your novel come from distinctly American sources like The Simpsons and Sex and the City. Any comments on the prominence of these Americanisms, either in your writing or in Irish life itself?

There's always been a huge amount of cultural interplay between the United States and Ireland. For a long time now, it's been very difficult to write truthfully about Ireland without including some American cultural references—for people my parents' age, for example, watching cowboy films or dancing to Elvis were often defining experiences. The Irish historically have had an enormous appetite for every form of culture, and such a small country can't produce enough to meet that demand, so people here soak up American TV shows, films, books, and music. Transposed into an Irish context, those become part of our culture, too—they become part of that interplay. Take The Commitments: Roddy Doyle transposed very American music to a Dublin context to create an intensely Irish book, which then went back to America both in book form and in movie form.

I think it's probably impossible to have satellite TV and the Internet and still be quaint and Old World; that demands a level of cultural isolation that just doesn't exist here. When I referenced The Simpsons, for example, I wasn't even thinking of it as an American reference, because it's omnipresent here as well: everyone's watched it, everyone knows it, its catchphrases have become part of the language. The reality of Irish culture today is that it's not wholly indigenous; it's a fusion of homegrown elements and imported stuff, and it's all the richer for that.

Q. In the Woods takes a great deal of care to depict police procedures in an accurate, authentic fashion. In researching the novel, did you learn anything about detective work or criminal justice that especially surprised you or produced any singular revelations?

I was lucky enough to have the help of an amazing detective on the Irish police force who spent hours talking with me, answered an incredible variety of weird questions, and is responsible for basically everything in the book that's police-related and accurate. I did take some liberties, where the story required it—to take the most obvious example, there's no Murder squad in Ireland—but, apart from those, I tried to be as accurate as possible.

The thing that startled me most is how often detectives know exactly whodunit and can't do a thing about it. In detective novels (including mine) and TV series, almost all of the focus is on finding out who committed the murder. That's at the heart of the plot arc; that occupies about 99 percent of the detectives' time and energy, that's the moment of revelation that will transform everything. But one of the things I learned while I was researching is that, in reality, identifying the murderer is often the easy part. Once you've done that, you still have to get evidence that will stand up in court—and that can be a long, tangled, excruciating, and sometimes hopeless struggle. Often detectives are absolutely sure who committed a murder very early in the investigation, but they put months or years of work into trying to get the suspect to confess, trying to break his alibi, trying to find a piece of forensic evidence to link him to the crime—and sometimes nothing works, and they're left to watch him get away with it.

Q. A striking aspect of In the Woods is its bold resistance to many of the conventional expectations of the mystery genre. It's safe to say that some readers reach for mysteries because they crave the assurance of seeing detectives acting with cold-blooded confidence, problems being solved, and justice being done. In the Woods is not completely obliging on any of these counts. Did you set out to write such an iconoclastic book?

I've always been fascinated by the shape of the mystery novel. It's so clearly, cleanly defined: someone gets killed, and someone else finds out who did it. On the most basic level, In the Woods is faithful to that convention: there's a murder at the beginning, and over the course of the book Rob and Cassie find the killer. But my favorite mystery books have always been the ones that experiment with the boundaries of the genre: Donna Tartt's The Secret History (which is both my favorite literary novel and my favorite crime novel), where you find out on the first page who killed whom; Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair, a deeply unsettling study of a psychopath, where the villain is obvious almost from the start and the most serious crime is basically wasting police time; Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, where the guilty go free and the innocent pay for others' crimes. These books are set on the ragged edge where genre conventions meet reality—a reality in which people are flawed and contradictory, justice isn't always done, truth is a complicated thing, and the search for answers doesn't always have a happy ending. They're not as comforting as the tidier, more unequivocal books in which good triumphs and evil is punished, but they're the ones that capture me, the ones that stay in my mind. When I was writing In the Woods, I wasn't trying to be iconoclastic; I'm nowhere near that organized. I was just trying to write the kind of book I like to read.

Q. Having lost the companionship of his two vanished friends Jamie and Peter, Rob Ryan grows up to form another triumvirate with Cassie and Sam. Do you see Rob as sometimes striving more to repeat the past than to salvage and redeem it?

I think we all have unfinished patterns in our lives, patterns that we can't move beyond until we find a way to complete them. The pattern that was branded onto Rob's mind when he was twelve—the two loved and lost friends—is one of these: he comes back to it almost involuntarily. Once he's there, he can't or won't do anything to change the pattern—he's only dimly aware that changing it is even an option—and so he almost deliberately wrecks the triumvirate with Cassie and Sam, because that's the only thing he knows how to do with it. For him, the past and the present coexist: his past defines his present completely.

Q. What are some of your other thoughts about the psychological makeup of Rob Ryan? And what sources did you draw upon—psychiatric research, your experience as an actor, etc.—to bring his character into focus?

My wonderful editor, Kendra Harpster, once told me that Rob is the kind of guy whom you know you shouldn't get involved with; you know he's trouble; you know he's too badly damaged for a healthy relationship—but you want to get involved anyway. I think we've all known guys like that.

No psychiatric research—at least not for Rob, although I did a lot of research on psychopathology in order to make the killer as real as possible. Rob is messed up in a fairly individual way; I'm not sure it has an official diagnosis! For Rob, my main resource was probably my experience as an actor. For a long time now, it's been my job to create a three-dimensional character out of words on a page, and (touch wood) send the audience home feeling as if that character is a real person whom they actually know. A lot of people have told me that they feel that way about the characters in In the Woods, and it's the best compliment anyone can give me. When someone says that, I know I've done my job.

Q. In the Woods sounds a series of elegiac notes. Not only is Rob Ryan obviously shaken by the theft of his childhood, but the book as a whole mourns the passing of lost time, whether it be the more carefree Ireland of the 1980s or the remoter medieval era that the book's archaeologists are trying desperately to document. Is there any golden past for which you catch yourself yearning?

I catch myself missing the Dublin I moved to in 1990. Because almost nobody had money, back then, culture and conversation were our main currencies. We valued playwrights, poets, musicians, artists—even if they weren't contributing to the economy, they were contributing something priceless to the fabric of society. We valued fast wit, elegant language, creative swear words, in-depth arguments, long evenings in the pub laughing ourselves silly—even if they didn't generate revenue, they generated a sense of community that no amount of revenue can create.

Since then, Ireland's had an economic boom that has elevated money to the status of a god: the worth of any person, place, or industry is determined exclusively by how much money it generates. As a result, we seem to have basically nothing but money. People can afford SUVs but not homes; everyone's working so frenetically, and commuting so far, that no one has time for a family life, never mind a conversation and a laugh; as house prices skyrocket, people can't afford to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up, so communities are fragmenting; artists, unless they're massively successful, are treated like worthless spongers; theaters are being closed and heritage sites destroyed because they don't make enough money to count. We have all the luxuries, but we don't have the comforts and we don't have the essentials, and I miss them. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, though, so I keep an eye on that tendency. The Dublin I'm missing is one in which people were desperately poor, and unemployment and emigration were sky-high. It had its wonderful sides, but it was far from golden.

Q. In connection with her own near-molestation as a child, your detective Cassie Maddox observes that children find it almost impossible to resist the promise of marvels—the possibility of entering a magical world. Do you really think adults are all that different? Aren't most of us continually both ennobled and victimized by our willingness to believe and search for the fantastic?

I think that leap of belief, that capacity to respond to the mysterious unseen and unknown, is one of the most incredible human abilities—and how you respond to the unknown is one of the defining choices that make you what you are. That's a recurring thread in the book: how the different characters react when they have the chance to make that leap into an unknown world that could transform their lives forever, for better or for worse. Cassie, as in that childhood story, is willing to take huge risks for the chance of marvels. Rob isn't: every time he has the opportunity to take that leap, he runs as fast and as far as he can, and in the end that destroys him. On the other hand, there's one character who is destroyed—perhaps even more thoroughly—by his willingness to make that commitment to the unknown. Our ability to believe in marvels is an amazing thing; it's a crucial part of what makes us human, it's a crucial part of what makes life wonderful—but, like anything so important, it's dangerous and it doesn't come with guarantees.

Q. We don't want to give anything away, but the ending of In the Woods leaves a pretty humongous loose end still dangling. Is there any chance of a sequel that will tell us whether Rob Ryan solves the great remaining mystery of the story?

I'm currently working on a second book, which is linked to In the Woods without being exactly a sequel. The new book is told from Cassie Maddox's point of view, and it takes places six months after the events of In the Woods. I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still not sure how it's going to end. All I can say is that I'm not done with Rob Ryan.


  • What do the woods represent symbolically in Tana French's novel? Does their significance change as the story progresses?
  • The loss or absence of stable families is a recurring motif in In the Woods. How do French's characters, particularly Ryan, attempt to compensate for this absence?
  • Does the Irish setting of In the Woods contribute significantly to the telling of the story, or do you find French's novel to be about humanity on a more universal level?
  • How does Ryan's experience In the Woods at the age of twelve affect his ability to function as a detective? Is it always a hindrance to him, or are there ways in which it improves and deepens his insights?
  • Cassie Maddox, Ryan's partner, is perhaps the most consistently appealing character in the novel. What are her most attractive qualities? What are the weaker points of her personality? Does Ryan ever fully appreciate her?
  • After sleeping together, Ryan and Cassie cease to be friends. Why do you think the experience of physical intimacy is so damaging to their relationship? Are there other reasons why their friendship falls apart?
  • Ryan states that he both craves truth and tells lies. How reliable to you find him as a narrator? In what ways does the theme of truth and misrepresentation lie at the heart of In the Woods?
  • Imagine that you are Ryan's therapist. With what aspects of his personality would you most want to help him come to terms? Do you think there would be any way to lead him out of ìthe woods?î
  • How convincing is French's explanation of the motivating forces that lead to Katy's murder—forces that come close to a definition of pure evil? Are such events and motivations ever truly explicable?
  • The plan to build the new motorway, trampling as it does on a past that some regard as sacred, is an outrage to the archaeologists who are trying to preserve an ancient legacy. How does this conflict fit thematically with Ryan's own contradictory desires to unearth and to pave over his past?
  • Do you have your own theories about the mysteries that remain unsolved at the end of In the Woods? What are they?
  • What were your thoughts and emotions upon finishing In the Woods? If this book affected you differently from other mysteries you have read, why do you think this was true?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 804 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 805 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    descriptive - may contain spoiler alerts

    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.

    34 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2008

    Good beginning then downhill all the way

    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.

    31 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009

    Very good book

    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!

    22 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I just don't understand!

    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....???

    19 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2010

    I will start off my review with another review listed on the back of the book "Even smart people who should know better will be able to lose themselves in these dark woods."-Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review. I guess I'm not

    smart because I did not get lost in the woods and prefer the books that smart people know better not to read. My comment to Ms stasio is that the book's plot could not be further from your typical whodunit. The authors over use of detail and metaphors was a destraction, and had only built up my anticipation for an extordinary twist, sadly this book was as twisted as I-95.

    17 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2008

    Mixed Feelings

    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.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2010

    I Also Recommend:


    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.

    13 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Good first novel

    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.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2010


    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.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2012

    Realistic and Believable

    This book was a good read. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it was very realistic and believable. The characters were well developed. I was easily able to relate to the emotions of the characters.
    The narrative made me feel like I was part of the novel. So many books disappoint me with an unrealistic ending but Into the Woods did not disappoint me. The story was true to life, with no easy answers, and left me wanting more. So I bought the next book in the series “The Likeness”.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2008

    You'll hate yourself for wasting your time!

    What a colossal disappointment! The only reason I stuck with the somewhat predictable story was to get some resolution on the tragedy of the character's never came! The plot is good, but predictable and the author is far too wordy for my taste. Don't waste your time on this one!

    6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2010

    Interesting Read

    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.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Peeling an onion. . .

    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.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    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!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Thrilling Debut Mystery Novel

    This novel's first chapter features one of the very best opening paragraphs I've ever read - and I've read great books like a fiend for the past 39 years. Tana French's writing throughout is superlative. Very descriptive, evocative prose. Funny, too.

    The two detectives, one of whom narrates the story, are terrific characters - especially likeable and engaging - and I got very caught up with the two of them. Some of the other characters are particularly good, and often amusing, without crossing the line into caricature. The story is well-paced and detailed - so suspenseful that I found it nearly impossible to put down.

    My only complaint is that occasionally, during the first third of the story, the narrator makes self-referential comments that interrupt the flow and would do better to have been edited out. Here are two passages whose final sentences feel too self-conscious and interrupting to me:

    1. "One of them ... had got bored and started melting stuff onto a broken CD with a lighter flame. The result ... was surprisingly pleasing, like one of the less humorless manifestations of modern urban art. There was a food-stained microwave in one corner, and a small inappropriate part of me wanted to suggest that he put the CD in it, to see what would happen."

    2. "[One of the characters] struck me as the type who would say just about anything if he thought it would make you happy. I wished I had thought of asking him whether the guy [a suspicious-looking person] had been wearing stilettos."

    Those small flaws aside, the novel is absolutely terrific. A real page-turner. If you enjoy a good mystery as well as beautifully descriptive writing, this is for you. After reading this and French's _The Likeness: A Novel_, I'm very much looking forward to _Faithful Place: A Novel_.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2009

    No idea how this could be a bestseller

    I picked this book up yesterday and after the first page I forced myself to read the first chapter to at least give it a chance. However, I think that is all I can force myself to read; I am bringing it back today. I agree that it is overly "wordy"/descriptive and sounds like this author was just plain trying to hard.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013


    Too much was unfinished. Im shocked this is on b and n top 100 list.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012


    This isnt fair u never find out what happened to the kids a waste of time

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    Amazing read

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I absolutely love this book and its characters, the descriptions

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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