Even the premise of this novel is unique and compelling. Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are investigating the murder of a 12-year old girl in the woods behind a suburban neighborhood outside of Dublin. It’s a complicated and perplexing case, with no obvious suspects. To make matters worse, only Cassie knows Rob’s dark secret: that he grew up in that same neighborhood, played in the same woods when he was a child, and was the only remaining witness when his two best friends disappeared from those woods when they were twelve years old.
Rob thinks he can handle the stress of being involved in the case, but when they discover evidence that could possibly link the 20-year old murder with the present one, things get even more complicated. Rob has no memory of the day of his friends’ disappearance nor of any of the years leading up to it, but the parallels in these cases and the familiar setting begin to bring some long-lost memories to the forefront. Meanwhile, Rob and Cassie get more and more frustrated and exhausted as leads dry up, and the media and their boss pressure them to solve the case.
I used to read almost exclusively mysteries and thrillers but hardly ever read them anymore – no special reason except that there are so many great books out there! In the Woods reminded me why I used to enjoy mysteries so much – this unique story is filled with suspense and surprising twists and turns that I never saw coming. But this novel is also beautifully written, with prose that paints a picture and makes you feel like you are there. Here is the opening passage of the prologue:
“Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950’s. 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. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants. One! Two! Three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and your best friend’s knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Every summer decked in all its best glory.”
See what I mean? I can smell, feel, and touch that childhood summer. French has a talent for using beautiful descriptive language, even in scenes where she is describing something frightening or gruesome. The effect is to make you feel as if you are there, right with Detective Ryan, investigating the murder and reliving a childhood that he’d entirely forgotten. It is a compelling story that grabs you and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!