Stars: 2 out of 5.
I am rarely upset about a book. I am excited if I love it and usually just sad or even indifferent if I don’t. After all, you can’t like them all. Well, this time I’m pissed off with this book. Really, really pissed off! In the Woods had all the makings of a 5 star, all-time favorite book, but those hopes crashed and burned about 2/3 in. Now I feel cheated, like a kid who was promised candy only to discover a piece of rock under all that bright glittering packaging.
I realize that I’m not exactly an expert in this genre – I rarely read murder mysteries. I watch plenty of those on TV though. I had picked In the Woods because the premise seemed interesting: Three kids go to play in the woods. Only one of them is found the next morning, wearing bloody shoes and no memory of what happened. Twenty years later, that kid, now a detective in the murder squad, is forced to come back to this town to investigate the murder of another child in the same woods.
Now my understanding of the murder mystery genre is that the author and the reader enter into an unspoken pact – if the reader sticks with the story, the author will reveal the mystery in the end. Most of the questions will be answered and the culprits found. The reader will know who had done it, why and how.
The biggest mystery in this book is what happened to Peter and Jamie 20 years ago. The book even begins with that disappearance, and Katie’s murder comes a few chapters later. So that’s the mystery that should be resolved by the end, right?
By the time I was maybe 10 pages away from finishing the book, I had the sinking feeling that the author would not answer any of those questions. We will never find out what Rob saw in the woods that night or what became of Peter and Jamie. I had invested hours of my time to read through 400+ pages just to end up with the lukewarm explanation that “some memories are just gone for good, and some mysteries are not meant to be solved.”
I realize that in real life that’s what happens about 70% of the time. I mean, just look at the amount of cold cases gathering dust in police archives around the world. However, book logic is different. I don’t want to get invested in a story that won’t give me a resolution. I want to feel a sense of fulfillment after I finish a book, not to feel cheated and frustrated.
I’m upset about this because the book has so much potential. It’s wonderfully well-written. The prose is just beautiful, and some passages are just poignantly poetic. The protagonist has a strong and interesting voice that I wanted to follow. And his personal involvement with this place just made me want to finally find out what had happened on that fateful day 20 years ago even more… So I dived into the book head first and fully expected an exceptional read.
The alarm bells first went off in my head when Rob decided not to come forward about his identity even when evidence found on the new crime scene linked it to the case of his missing friends. He chose to keep his mouth shut on the fact that Ryan Adams and detective Rob Adams were one and the same person and he reiterated this decision several times during the investigation. I find this decision stupid and irresponsible, because not only does it jeopardize his career, but the whole case as well, since all the evidence he collected will become inadmissible in court if the truth comes out. And his reasoning behind this decision makes less and less sense the further we get into the book.
My second problem with In the Woods is Rob’s partner Cassie. The way Tana French portrays her, she is “saint” Cassie who can do no wrong. She always has the right hunch about the case. She is smart and beautiful and has a keen understanding of people. Yet she chooses to stick with Rob no matter what he does. Even after that disastrous night, she isn’t mad at him for the abject way he starts treating her, but because she lost his friendship and somehow she thinks it’s her fault. Really? Hot, smart and sassy girl who is extremely devoted to her abusive boyfriend / friend. Hello trope!
But even though I didn’t like Cassie and had a tough time with some of Rob’s decisions, the story would still have gotten a 4 star review if the author had kept her end of the bargain and actually given me and ending. The fact that it didn’t happen was just the last nail in the coffin lid.
I’m upset. I won’t recommend this book. I had planned to read the next one in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I have zero motivation to do that now.