Genre: crime mystery, contemporary fiction, psychological mystery
Target audience: adults
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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 them, a boy called Adam Ryan, 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 who changed his name into Rob Ryan, is now police detective on the Dublin Murder Squad. He keeps his past a secret because it is the most convenient for his career. He still doesn’t remember anything but soon he will have to face the demons of his past. 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.
What I liked:
I am happy to say I liked a lot. Firstly the narrative voice of Tana French is completely captivating – atmospheric, funny, intelligent without being patronizing. Secondly the author managed to omit many template mistakes. Imagine yourself a book without a love triangle. Imagine a book in which two main characters, a young man and a young woman at the beginning of their career, simply befriend each other, without any sexual context, and continue that friendship almost to the very end. Imagine that Rob Ryan, the narrator, can be deliciously honest about his own shortcomings, saying something like this:
“What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this – two things: I crave truth. And I lie.“
There is also Cassie Maddox, who not only thinks and acts like an intelligent human being but also is a dropout psychology student so perfectly able to analyze herself and the others. If only those others listened to her and believed in her best intentions…
The friendship between her and Rob Ryan is at the heart of the story, interwoven with Rob’s childhood trauma and the ongoing investigation concering a murder of a 12-year-old Katharine Devlin, an aspiring ballet dancer. I found that thread really refreshingly original. I was so pleased it wasn’t the case of an insta-love or insta-lust but something far more mature and real, something beautiful and true. Of course the fact that their frienship is doomed from the beginning because Rob admits he destroys every relationship, sexual or otherwise, due to his childhood drama or maybe a flaw of his character, adds to it a dash of nostalgia. Let me quote him once again:
“And then, too, I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn’t find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself.“
Well, I don’t know about you but that quote I found simply heartrending. How not to like such a character?
Finally let me add that the attention to police procedural detail was exquisite. I was really surprised Ms. French hasn’t worked as a cop herself.
What I didn’t like:
This book won the Edgar Award
for best debut novel but it doesn’t mean it is perfect. Don’t read it for the mystery part. In fact I found the criminal puzzle the weakest as I was able to spot the main culprit without any problems somewhere in the middle of the investigation and I am not the brightest fictional crime solver around, even old, good Agatha Christie always managed to mess with my head (fortunately I loved every minute of it)
Also don’t read it if you like everything nicely solved and explained in your books because plenty of questions will be left unanswered. If I were to choose an alternate title for this book (and yes, it is a bit spoilerish) could be: Complete Lack of Any Clear Explanation About What Really Happened In The Woods. It didn’t bother me much; I admit that monsters living inside our heads are rarely exposed or explained and that’s why they are more interesting and terrifying than any real creature you can meet. Those kids might have been taken by the Pooka or the slavers or the elves or Doctor Who – children disappear apparently for no reason all the time and some of the cases are never going to be solved. I am ok with that and if you share my outlook you’ll be fine as well.
Also, as you might guess, do not expect any easy HEA anywhere. It is not a fairy tale.
Go, read it!