Monday, December 26, 2011

In the Woods

Rob Ryan has finally attained his dream job as detective on the Dublin Murder Squad. He's got the wardrobe, the loyal partner, and the sarcastic attitude that all say that he's made it... until the day that he and his partner, Cassie Maddox, randomly get assigned to a case that may destroy the life that Rob has created. It's the rape/murder case of Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl found in the Dublin suburb of Knocknaree. Twenty years previous, there was another criminal case in that same neighborhood, in that same wood. Twenty years ago, three children went into the wood to play, as per their usual routine. Two--Peter and Jamie--were never seen again, and the third child, Adam Robert Ryan, was found clinging to a tree in terror, unable to remember what had happened to his friends. The case had been closed for years, no leads were found, Adam became Rob, moved away and grew up, and no one but his trusted partner knows the secret trauma of his past. Will Katy's murder shed light on Rob's own case? Will his memory from that long ago day return to help him or to haunt him? Or will the truth remain locked away in Rob's memory forever? 

The book begins with Rob's warning to the reader: "What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this--two things: I crave truth. And I lie." Shiver me timbers! We could have a case of an Unreliable Narrator here and we know it right off the bat--from the get-go--straight from the horse's mouth! (Are those enough idioms for you?) At the tender age of twelve, I first felt the sting of the betrayal of an unreliable narrator in an Agatha Christie book. I won't reveal the title, for fear that I will ruin the book for any of you mystery lovers out there, but let's just say that in one of Dame Agatha Christie's mysteries, the narrator is the killer! Oh, the horror! 

The Unreliable Narrator is still an idea so intriguing and horrifying to me that as soon as I read Rob's disclosure, I felt anew a shiver of anxiety. But I determined that my heart had recovered enough from its prepubescent betrayal to read In the Woods. I was ready to trust again. And even though Rob warned me about his predilection to lie--and even though he told me not to--I fell in love with him anyway.  Despite his chain smoking, heavy drinking, and damaged psyche, I couldn't resist his tall ranginess, his loner vibe, and his image of bad-ass cop.

I bought this book on vacation and described it to Nathan in a book "show-and-tell," the likes of which he must frequently endure. (It's an even trade; I have to listen to detailed descriptions of hunting implements and expeditions.) But anyway, this "show-and-tell" must have enticed him, because Nathan stole the book, disappeared for three days with it and returned it to me, disgruntled. When I finished it, I wasn't disgruntled, although I survived some severe emotional devastation along the way. So for any of you readers out there--in order to avoid a similar disgruntlement with this delicious book--here's my disclosure to remember along with Rob's: don't be too sucked in to the blurb on the back cover. This isn't so much the story of the boy "gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers"--but rather, it's the story of the man that boy became: his flaws and fears, his mistakes and triumphs.

Tana French writes exquisitely. I was completely enthralled by Rob's narrative voice and by the cadence and beauty of her words. French created a can't-put-it-down story, but the depth of the characters and the freshness of the dialogue equal the quality of the plot. And that's a rare and wonderful thing. Two of my favorite passages:

The girls I dream of are the gentle ones, wistful by high windows or singing sweet old songs at a piano, long hair drifting, tender as apple blossom. But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you crackling to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other's hands. 

I know I said that I always choose the anticlimactic over the irrevocable, and yes of course what I meant was that I have always been a coward, but I lied: not always, there was that night, there was that one time.

Nathan's Grade: 3/5 stars. Awesome until the ending, which was disappointing.

My Grade: 4/5 stars. Interesting story, but the true treasure was the depth of character development and the exquisite writing. This would be a great pick for a book club, because even days after finishing it, I'm still pondering and wondering.

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