In the Woods, by Tana French
In my continuing desperation to distract myself from the unsettling drone of daily news, I have found myself recently drawn to consuming crime stories both on Netflix and in print. Broadchurch, Happy Valley and Wallander all proved to be engrossing distractions, and the current third season of the HBO series, True Detective has me begrudgingly agreeing to stay up past my usual bedtime on Sunday nights. Recently a friend gave me Tana French’s 2007 novel, In the Woods and, having just finished it, I immediately ordered two other books she’s authored. In addition to her first-rate talent as a writer, French (who is of Irish-American decent) has a finely-tuned ear for authentic dialogue which is a huge part of the appeal for me. The protagonist in this book is a 30-something detective who works in Dublin’s Murder Unit. When he was 12, he and his two playmates went missing while horsing around in the woods abutting their neighborhood. He was eventually found, dazed, bloodied and amnesiac, but the mystery of his missing friends was never solved. His family moves away and he’s able to successfully bury his past until, two decades later, he finds himself investigating the murder of a young girl in that same area. It becomes obvious to the reader that his obsession with the current case is in large part his desire to uncover the truth about his own past trauma. French cleverly overlays parallel timelines adding another layer of interest to the story plot. Intertwined, there are the requisite love interests, political intrigue, red herrings and a clever plot device that places the investigation location (both past and present) on a medieval historic site that is slated for demolition to make room for a hotly contested highway. Crime fiction is usually not my genre of preference, but, truth be told, I did have difficulty putting the book down after the first few pages. French's writing is somewhat reminiscent of Gillian Flynn’s (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) with the same unsettling build-up, the well-written, deeply flawed characters and sharp twist finale. A good book to keep you company during the cold, dark winter nights!