In the Woods

Our crime and mystery book discussion continues to explore its annual theme, “Youth is Wasted on the Young,” by reading Tana French’s first Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox book, In the Woods (2007).

The novel has an interesting but challenging premise.  Adam Robert “Rob” Ryan grew up in a Dublin neighborhood where he bonded with two playmates, Jamie Rowan and Peter Savage.  When their friendship was threatened by the possibility that Jamie would have to move away, the three friends went on a family strike and took off for the local woods where they have an established territory that does not include the adults.  Unfortunately, in a mystery that is never explained, Jamie and Peter disappear while Adam is left terror stricken, clutching a tree, with his shoes full of blood.

Jump ahead twenty years and we find Adam, now know as Rob Ryan, assigned to his old neighborhood as a detective.  His partner is Cassie Maddox and the premise of the book hangs on the fact that she is the only one who knows he is “Adam.”  Let us just say that complications are going to arise.

When a young girl is found murdered at an archeology site in the woods, the case is assigned to Rob and Cassie.  The modern woods are a very different place now and it will soon disappear when a local highway paves it over.  Racing against the clock in the present and dealing with the past at the same time, Rob and Cassie complicate their lives even further by not always making the wisest of decisions.

For a book discussion group, questions will arise about the behaviors of a number of males in the book, especially Rob.  It will be important for discussion leaders to remember this quote from Rob:  “I carve truth.  And I lie.”  Our group enjoyed the novel and the discussion so I recommend it to groups looking for a complicated novel of character, a good crime story, a novel haunted by historical happenings, and a book with a strong sense of place.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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