Monday, May 3, 2010

book review: "in the woods" by tana french

With the spring semester finally at an end, I've been reading more often--for pleasure, of course, though I did have to re-read an incredibly drab book about Parisian history in preparation for a final. (How can someone make Paris's long and bloody history seem about as exciting as watching C-Span?)

I finished my first summer read last night: Tara French's debut, In The Woods, a mix of mystery and psychological thrills. It tells the story of detective Adam Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, who are investigating the high profile murder of a 12-year-old ballerina. She was murdered in a patch of woods in a small Dublin village. Ryan feels extremely drawn to the case, as when he was a child in the same town, his two best friends went missing in the same wood. We learn Ryan was a witness to the disappearance and survived, but has no memory of the events. The story delves deep into the parallels of both murders.

I found French's writing style difficult to get used to at first; her voice didn't flow naturally for me. I would say, though, that she is a proficient writer and she did a great job of adding in little pop culture quips. There were a couple moments where I genuinely laughed, which is welcome in a gruesome murder mystery.

It was hard for me to sympathize with--or even like--any character but the protagonist, and perhaps this is because it was written in first-person point of view. He was a flawed character who made frustrating choices until the very end, but he felt like a real person. The other characters felt like flat caricatures. For me, the character of detective Cassie Maddox was the most irritating. She was one of those jaded, trying-too-hard-to-be-different types. But the author wrote about her as if she were perfect: always right, extremely intelligent, happy, strong, funny, beautiful, star detective...the list goes on. Where were her flaws?

I also had a hard time believing Adam and Cassie were in their mid-30's. There was something juvenile about their interactions with each other. I have a hard time imagining to 35-year-olds repeatedly sticking their tongues out at each other, flipping the bird, wrestling, etc. There was nothing remotely adult about their mannerisms. It really made me doubt that either of the two could ever had made it to the rank of detective.

As far as plot goes, it was fairly predictable, but French did do a good job of holding my attention throughout the story. The most irritating part was the sheer number of pages wasted on insignificant, mundane details which held no bearing on the resolution of the plot. There's a point where red herrings cross the line to become time wasters.

I found myself extremely disappointed with the ending of this book. Of the two parallel story lines, only one had any sort of resolution. The other was simply left hanging. Sometimes open-ended endings can work and ultimately are more realistic, but the author's attempt was unsuccessful. I don't necessarily expect everything to be tied up with a neat, tidy bow, but I was left with the feeling that something was missing. I didn't like that.

Another minor annoyance was the dialogue. Sometimes the characters' speech would be written with an Irish brogue, but then a couple paragraphs later, the accent would disappear. I have no issue with authors choosing to write accented dialogue or not, but I do appreciate consistency.

Overall, it was an entertaining book to read, but I don't think I necessarily enjoyed it and I probably wouldn't read it again. Really, though, it wasn't at bad attempt at a debut mystery. I found the most interesting part of the novel was the psychological aspect, not the whodunit. I think that perhaps Tara French would fare better writing in a different genre.




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