#17: In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by Tana French

Like many Cannonballers, I am behind in my reviews.  I’m also behind in my reading, but my schedule has freed up and I’m looking forward to a long stretch of leisure reading.  I’m not currently addicted to any video games and most shows are on summer hiatus, so it’s time to stretch out in the AC and turn some pages, motherfuckers!

But first… let’s go back in time, all the way to April when I read In The Woods for my May book club.  Considering I can’t remember what I wore to work yesterday, this should be a fun recap.  [Note from future self: I just finished writing and dude, I wrote a LOT.]

I’m trying very hard not to give any spoilers, so if you’re planning on reading this, you should be safe.  Unless you’re one of those super awesome figure-outer people and somehow read one sentence and it reveals all the secrets.

This book was a first for me.  I don’t read mysteries.  I learned from my smart husband that this is a police procedural book, which is a subset of mysteries.  So, I um, learned something today. 

The Goodreads summary is spot on, so I’m just going to copy and paste it:

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.

Creepy, right?  We’ve got two mysteries in one!

The book is told from Ryan’s POV, which was interesting because there were times where I didn’t like him very much.  I wanted him to make different decisions or realize what he was doing and I felt sort of trapped that I was being dragged along for the ride.  On the other hand, as things were revealed, I liked discovering them at the same time he did.

Side note: I suck at figuring out plot twists.  The Sixth Sense?  I had no clue what was going on.  People who can figure stuff like that out before the big reveal are freaking magicians as far as I’m concerned.

Because of my lack of detective skills, I took it all at face value, even though part of my brain was all “This is a murder.  Someone is lying.  Someone did it, and you were told that they solve the case early on, so pay attention.” 

Here are the two major things that bothered me about this book:

First, no one on the force (except for his partner) knows that Ryan was involved in an unsolved murder when he was 12.  I don’t know how things are done in Dublin, but it is incomprehensible to me that simply by going by his middle name and changing his accent from Irish to English, no one knows who he is.  Was there no background check?  My book club members suggested that if it was a closed record case his name wouldn’t show up in any type of database, but I didn’t like the idea that he could be on the force near where he grew up and no one knew he was the same kid with dead friends.  I could sort of understand that he didn’t want to tell anyone when he was first hired onto the squad because he thought he’d be kept off cases even though they weren’t related, but it was still weird.  This of course neatly leads to him keeping his mouth shut when he’s assigned to the current murder.  He at least has a conversation with his partner, Cassie Maddox, to address this, and that kept me from chucking the book across the room.  And then as more things are revealed, it’s too late for him to say anything and he needs to keep the lie going even though he’s pretty sure it’s going to get him fired.

Second, I had a hard time with Ryan’s personality.  He remembers nothing from the day his friends were murdered and everything changed the moment he lived and they died.  I don’t know how much memory he loses, but it seems almost like he didn’t exist until a few weeks after the murders when he was able to talk and function again.  He leaves for boarding school and leaves everything behind.  For him, life changed and went on, but for the people who remained at home, everything is still there and sometimes feels fresh.

Because of this, Ryan has a disconnect in his personality.  He’s not close to anyone except Maddox and he collects girls for one night stands and then sends them on their way.  He finds fault with all women, except for Maddox, and that’s because he knew from the first few moments of their first encounter that there would be nothing romantic or sexual between them.  He describes other women in terms of if they annoy him or if he wants to protect them.  And also if he wants to have sex with them.  A book club member pointed out that it was a bit creepy that he was attracted to seemingly defenseless young women.  In some ways it’s like he’s trying to make up for not being able to protect his friends and that part of him is stuck at 12, but in other ways it really is just creepy.

The disconnect shows when he does his job because he wants to know the truth and he wants to  help people, and yet I felt like he didn’t care about people and only wanted to out them.  He’s quick to point out faults and find cracks.  However, if he feels protective of someone, he is blind to any faults or cracks.  He treats Maddox this way as well as one of the members of the victim’s family.  He immediately wants to protect her (take a drink every time I use the word “protect”) and is concerned when Maddox doesn’t feel the same way.  This made me want to know what in the hell was going on with the family.  The mom was zonked out, one sister seemed cognitively impaired, the father was clearly hiding something, and the older sister was trying to hold everything together.  Who was keeping secrets and do those secrets have anything to do with the murder?  And are there any connections to the other suspects???  And how does this connect to the murders of Ryan’s friends?  DOES IT EVEN CONNECT???  What is going on??!

On top of this, Ryan is living his regular day-to-day life.  Even though the murder case takes up most of it, we do get to see him in other roles, especially with Maddox.

The book takes a drastic turn and my book club members pointed out that the book almost becomes an entirely different book when this happens.  Everything changes for Ryan, it affects the case and it sets the course for what happens next.  This infuriated almost all of us because there were times he could have, if not stopped it, lessened the fall out.  A simple sentence or look or gesture and things wouldn’t have ended the way they did.  Or at least not at the same volume.

The ending of the book was good.  Again, I had no clue because I suck at figuring things out and I had to go back and reread initial interrogations and introductions to look for clues.  I liked doing that to see if anything stood out or read differently now that I knew what happened.

One thing that frustrated me is that one major issue is not solved and probably never will be.  It made sense because in reality not all problems are wrapped up, but I wanted to know!  There are more books in the series, so maybe it will be revisited.

And on that note: I didn’t plan on reading any more of this series because this isn’t my genre, but the next book is written from Cassie Maddox’s POV, and I freaking loved her character.  It takes place six months after this case and I might have to pick it up to see if unanswered questions are addressed and if she reflects on this case at all.  Honestly, I’d read a version of In The Woods that was told from her POV even knowing how it ends to get out of Ryan’s head.  I’m curious to know what goes on in hers, so I might need to pick up The Likeness.


6 responses to “#17: In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by Tana French

  1. Pingback: pyrajane’s #CBR4 review #17: In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by Tana French « Cannonball Read IV

  2. So, The Likeness was good, but requires a HUGE suspension of disbelief. I normally never have any issues with that, but with this one, I did keep going back and questioning it, finding it very difficult to take that leap.


    Good review, and I had similar problems but still loved the book. What brought me around is realizing that Rob/Ryan is an Unreliable Narrator, so because the story is from his perspective there are a lot of things that have to be seen as questionable. I think that the huge turn the book takes, that “I can’t stop this car wreck from happening” moment, is after Cassie and Rob sleep together. He becomes such an ass after that, and you start to see the story through Cassie’s eyes. Tana French has said she will come back around to solving the mystery of what happened to Rob when he was a kid because that lack of resolution was frustrating as hell.

    As for the series, I’ve read The Likeness and it is kind of amazing. Cassie goes undercover to solve a mystery of a murdered girl that she happens to be a dead ringer for. She infiltrates the girl’s circle of friends to find out the truth. It does stretch credulity, but the gimmick serves as a great way to put us inside Cassie’s head where she is basically suffering from PTSD after the events of In the Woods. The longer she stays undercover the more she sympathizes with her suspects. Kind of the standard “cop loses her way undercover” story but Cassie is such a likable character that the tension is wracked way up the deeper she goes as the cracks start to show.

    The series is up to 4 books now, and each one focuses on another character from the Dublin Murder Squad. For example, book 3 (Faithful Place) focuses on the senior officer that recruited Cassie for undercover work. That one is on my list for this year.

    • Cassie is such a great character and has had some seriously twisted things happen to her that I want to know what’s going on in her head.


      And yes, we all felt like the book became an entirely different book when they slept together. His disconnect continues when he’s convinced later on that all he has to do is get drunk and tell her that he loves her and everything will be OK.

  4. I just finished “into the woods”…. It drove me crazy not knowing how the earlier disappearance ended. Remember, no bodies does not necessarily equate with murder, they were (even though the parents were unaware) planning to run away. And the head of the detective squad planted a seed of doubt into my mind. Could Adam/Rob have done it himself? The police back then would never have suspected a 12 year old companion. The teenage gang identified the eerie laughter of a similar sized person, albeit with supernatural overtones, but that could have been heat exhaustion and drugs. Rob’s own memory referenced his growth spurt. And what of another character Rob/Adam’s mom mentioned that had been bullied by Peter? And remember Maddox said children don’t see the world the same. Could Adam have been attempting to rape Jamie in the castle’s secret room after her kiss opened the door, repeating the behavior of the gang a week earlier? And he could have removed his own shoes for a first time sexual encounter, but he got attacked from behind by Peter? I suspect the bodies are in the castle left standing in the motorway construction.

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