If you like good writing and enjoy psychologically complex mysteries, In the Woods will probably be one of your favorite new books this year. The best mysteries help us enter into the world of the detective, as well as into the world of the criminal and victim. Ms. French accomplishes this balancing act with aplomb while sharing many wonderful metaphors in lines of sparkling prose.
"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental, but cracked, refracting confusingly . . . ."
In the Woods is the story of two crimes which occur in the same Irish location twenty years apart. The crimes are linked by the narrator, Rob Ryan, who survived the first crime with a case of amnesia. In 1984, three friends aged 12 headed into the woods, and only one was found . . . in near-catatonic condition with blood-filled shoes, scraped knees, slashes across the back of his shirt, and clutching a tree's trunk with bloodied fingernails. The survivor was called Adam Ryan, and his family soon moved away . . . and sent him off to boarding school in England. While there, he learned to speak with an upper-class English accent and started to call himself Rob. His passion? To become a Murder detective.
The new case becomes his assignment because Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, happened to be playing Worms when the body of a 12-year-old girl, Katharine Devlin, was found on a pagan altar stone at an archeological site in Knocknaree where a motorway is about to be built. Ryan decides not to tell his supervisor that he had been a victim at the same age. Later, when potential connections between the cases appear, Ryan and Maddox agree to keep Ryan's secret.
The investigation soon bogs down into endless checking through standard procedures, but no motives or clues surface to point out the guilty party. The investigation does, however, turn up many other secrets. The stress of the case take a large toll on the partners and Ryan finds himself irresistibly attracted to the gap in his past. Can he regain his memory? Will that solve the current case?
The red herrings in this story are unusually well done. I suspect most readers will find the book's resolutions to be surprising and thought-provoking. Even if you don't, the stylish prose should keep you more than entertained. Much like in reading P. G. Wodehouse, I found myself stopping again and again to reread sentences that sparkled with precise and novel images.