The narrator of this unusual psychological crime novel, detective Rob Ryan, asks us to imagine a summer day in rural Ireland:
Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland’s subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur’s palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue….
On just such a day, three children enter the woods near their housing development to play; two of them disappeared that day and the third was found incoherent and bloody. After weeks of treatment he recovered consciousness and slowly regained his health, but he never regained his memory of the events and could not help police with their search for his missing playmates; they were never found again.
The incoherent child found in the woods was 12-year-old Adam Robert Ryan. To protect him from the notoriety he was sent away to live with a relative who enrolled him in boarding school where he changed his name from Adam to Rob. After graduation, Rob went to police academy and eventually became a detective in the elite Irish Murder Division.
In an ironic twist of fate, Ryan and his partner detective Cassie Maddox have been assigned to investigate the rape and murder of a teen-ager in the identical patch of woods where young Adam Ryan was found 20 years earlier. Before detective Ryan begins his narration of the investigation of this gruesome murder he advises us, his readers, that detectives are merciless in their search for the truth and that he will do anything to uncover the facts in this investigation. He warns us that he will lie to the reader if it suits his purpose; let the reader be wary.
Detectives Ryan and Maddox quickly organize their assistants and begin the tedious police work of solving a crime with many suspects but no solid leads. The woods where the victim was found is now an archaeological site that is being worked feverishly because in a few days the site must close to make way for an highway project. The suspects include the site workers, parents of the murdered girl, her associates, the developers who will gain when the highway is completed and the local characters who frequent the woods. This case will be a challenge for the detectives and their team.
In The Woods by Tana French, is an unusual detective story. The author writes convincingly of the police work, which will be appreciated by those readers fond of the police procedural genre, and she also presents well the emotional side of police work—the long hours, the tension and highs and lows and most of all the drudgery of following hopeless leads. She pulls this off with skill unusual in a first novel, but keep the warning given by the novel’s narrator in mind: detectives may lie to get at the truth.
This novel is a gem; I look forward to reading the two newer novels in this series.
Day 27: In The Woods (Tana French) (2007).