Detective Robert Ryan thought he left his past behind him. He changed his name, and it’s been years since he’s seen anyone from “back then.” There’s no one to associate him with Adam Ryan, the boy who was a witness to a crime in the woods of Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb. There were three of them that summer – Adam and his friends Jamie and Peter. One afternoon, the three of them went into the woods as they always did, but two of them never came out. Adam was found in complete shock, his shoes filled with blood, unable to remember what horrible nightmares occurred in those woods.
Twenty years later, Robert is called back to Knocknaree when a twelve-year-old girl, Katy Devlin, is brutally murdered and he and his partner, Cassie, are assigned to the case. The murder evokes memories of his childhood; though no one on the force except for Cassie is aware of his tie to the earlier case, Robert can’t help but feel that the two are connected. As he delves deeper into the mystery of Katy’s death, Robert uncovers recollections that have lain dormant all these years and must face the memories that he has tried to hide for so long.
In the Woods is at once a police drama and a psychological thriller. While the procedural portion of the novel is certainly interesting, it is the psychological component that really makes it worth reading. French delves deep into Robert’s mind, emerging with the threads that have made up his life – threads that seem to be unraveling before his very eyes. As he begins to remember what has been buried for so long, Robert begins to fall apart. His carefully crafted life begins to crumble, and he desperately reaches out to anything that can save him, namely Cassie.
The mystery portion of the book, while intriguing, doesn’t measure up. The resolution to one mystery, while well crafted, is a bit disappointing, and the conclusion to the other is nonexistent. One wonders if French did so on purpose in order to be able to continue the story at a later date. There is more than enough material for her to be able to do so. Her next book, The Likeness, continues Cassie’s story, so it isn’t inconceivable that French will decide to revisit Robert at a later date.
There is also the problem of the characters themselves. While most of the secondary characters are acceptable, Robert is not a very likeable personage. Indeed, in the book, he admits that he has not been portrayed in a flattering light. He seems indecisive and makes the classic literary mistake of shutting everyone out. That said, it seems as though French wanted her main character portrayed somewhat negatively. She certainly has the capability to write sympathetic characters; Cassie is a perfect example. Still, author’s intention or not, it is difficult to read a book with distaste for the protagonist.
Overall, In the Woods is a remarkable debut with an intriguing storyline. Though there are issues with plot resolution and character, the novel demonstrates French’s remarkable ability to write a psychological thriller. I look forward to her next novel with anticipation.