This is Tana French's first novel, published in 2007, and also the first in a series involving detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. I bought it in 2011 having discovered this author by way of her third novel Faithful Place
, which I thought was outstanding - one of the very best novels I read last year. Sadly and surprisingly, I didn't come away from In The Woods with quite such positive memories.
Dublin Detective Rob Ryan works with smart, tough Cassie Maddox, they are best friends as well as partners, and when the body of a young girl is found at the site of an archaeological dig, they are assigned to the case. When they reach the crime scene, Rob realises it is the exact site of his secret childhood trauma twenty years earlier - when he was twelve, Rob (known as Adam back then) had been playing in the woods one sunny day when his two best friends disappeared and were never seen again. Rob has no memory of the event however, although when a hairclip is found at the crime scene he recognises it as having belonged to his friend - and wonders if there could be a connection between that old, unsolved crime and this latest one. Knowing that he would be thrown off the case if his past were to be revealed, Rob takes a fateful decision to keep quiet. He and Cassie are investigating the murder of Katy Devlin, but they both hope that they might also solve the twenty-year-old mystery of the woods.
I was sure I going to like this, I had previous experience of the author with the same characters, and the novel has won high-profile acclaim by way of Anthony, Barry, Edgar and Macavity Awards (that's four separate awards by the way!). But I found it desperately ordinary and lacking the specialness that I found in French's third novel. It was actually boring in places and I was tempted to skip paragraphs here and there. The key element that was missing, and which was so abundantly rich in Faithful Place, was the high quality dialogue and the enhancement of character that it would have been expected to create. But it just wasn't there. It's quite good, yes, but actually nothing special and had I read this first I might never have discovered the pleasures of Faithful Place. A real surprise and disappointment, this, but I have pre-ordered the author's 2012 offering Broken Harbour (it comes out in June) because she most definitely has a talent that I like - it's just that it wasn't on display, at least not for me, in her debut novel. I have to put this down as an 'okay read, nothing wrong with it but nothing remarkable either'. I would of course urge anyone who hasn't read it yet to try Faithful Place, because I rate that very highly.