June 12, 2015

Two-for-One on Tana French Friday

In the Woods by Tana French

Release Date: May 17, 2007
Publisher: Penguin; Viking
Pages: 429 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
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Summary (from Goodreads)
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Thoughts on In the Woods
Cassie and I read The Likeness, the second book in this series, for an early edition of our adult fiction feature called Favorite Factor. We'd heard that you didn't have to read the books in order, so we started with the one we found most intriguing. While I enjoyed the book more than Cassie did, we both knew that we wanted to read more from French. I decided to go back and read the first book to see what I'd missed! 

The great thing about The Likeness was that it teased and hinted at the events in the first book without fully revealing them. I was able to enjoy that story without knowing the full history of what happened before it, but I was also able to pick up this book and didn't already knowing everything in it would all play out. While The Likeness focused on Detective Cassie Maddox, In the Woods is Detective Rob Ryan's story. It focuses on two different cases that happened in the same small Dublin suburb. In 1984, three children go out to play in the woods and don't return. Only one is found, gripping a tree and wearing blood-filled sneakers, and he's unable to recall anything that happened. Twenty years later, that boy is Detective Rob Ryan, and he's on the case where a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in those same woods. Has the past come back to haunt him?

Tana French has a knack for writing complicated characters. She writes psychological thrillers, so it only makes sense that she likes to explore the ins and outs of human nature. What motivates a person to murder? How do people react to tragedy? She likes the why of a mystery more than a who, and I think that's why I'm drawn to her books. I'm not a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers, but I'll always make an exception for this author. She's a fantastic writer, and I'd recommend her books for that aspect alone. 

I actually guessed who was guilty very early on in the book, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment in the slightest. I loved the unraveling of threads, the journey it took to get to that resolution, and the way certain things caught me by complete surprise. But what I didn't love? Detective Rob Ryan himself. He's a dark, traumatized man. And while I don't think he could be written any other way, I hated him at times. He self-sabotages and hurts other people along the way, and it was hard to watch him do it. 

That being said, In the Woods is a great start to this series. It introduces an exciting new voice to this genre, and it gave me an even better appreciation for French's talent. It's can be a hard read because of the subject matter, but it never revels in gore or glorifies anything gruesome. I wasn't scared while reading it, though it did make me sad, and that's the only kind of mysteries and thrillers I care to read. I recommend giving it a shot!

So Quotable
“I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn't find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself.” 
Faithful Place by Tana French

Release Date: July 13, 2010
Publisher: Penguin; Viking
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #3
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Summary (from Goodreads)
That which was buried is brought to light and wreaks hell -- on no one moreso than Frank Mackey, beloved undercover guru and burly hero first mentioned in French's second book about the Undercover Squad, The Likeness.

Faithful Place is Frank's old neighborhood, the town he fled twenty-two years ago, abandoning an abusive alcoholic father, harpy mother, and two brothers and sisters who never made it out. They say going home is never easy, but for Frank, investigating the cold case of the just-discovered body of his teenage girlfriend, it is a tangled, dangerous journey, fraught with mean motivations, black secrets, and tenuous alliances. Because he is too close to the case, and because the Place (including his family) harbors a deep-rooted distrust of cops, Frank must undergo his investigation furtively, using all the skills picked up from years of undercover work to trace the killer and the events of the night that changed his life.

Thoughts on Faithful Place
When I finished In the Woods, I decided to move right on to Faithful Place. It focuses on a character you first meet in The Likeness: Frank Mackey. Faithful Place is Frank's old neighborhood, a place he fled more than twenty years ago. He was supposed to leave for London with Rosie Daly, the love of his life, but she never showed up the night they were supposed to go. For years, he's believed she left without him - likely because of his dysfunctional family. But when Rosie's suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a house on Faithful Place, Frank's forced to go home whether he likes it or not. What if everything he's believed has been a lie?

I ended up enjoying Faithful Place a little more than In the Woods, though The Likeness is still my favorite from French so far. While Rosie's disappearance and the investigation years later is important, the book felt like it focused more on Frank's relationships with the people in his life. I've always believed French spends more time on her characters than her mysteries - though that isn't to say her mysteries aren't intriguing or well developed. Personally, I prefer the focus on the characters and relationships. It leads to a slower-paced book, but that allows me to really savor the writing and its complexity. I'm always impressed by the depth in these pages!

Because Frank works in undercover, he solves cases and pursues leads in unconventional ways. He's definitely not a guy who follows the rules! I liked that his mind works differently, and it was fun to see a case solved that way. He spends a lot more time on the streets and talking to the neighborhood about what they've seen or heard. Because of that, I occasionally found the book too dialogue-heavy. There are a lot of conversations, and I definitely need Frank to explain their relevance and significance. It was the one thing that kept me from really immersing myself in this story. But I did love how Irish this book felt!

Frank wasn't always my favorite character, but I loved the way his upbringing shaped him without defining him. He has, in many ways, escaped from Faithful Place... but he'll never leave it behind. It's such a big part of who he's become, and I loved how French explored and depicted it. If you've read the first two books in the series, I think you'll find much to enjoy about this installment. And if you're just getting started, you can pick this one up first but I'd recommend going to the very beginning to see all the build up and background.

So Quotable
“I've always loved strong women, which is lucky for me because once you're over about twenty-five there is no other kind. Women blow my mind. The stuff that routinely gets done to them would make most men curl up and die, but women turn to steel and keep on coming. Any man who claims he's not into strong women is fooling himself mindless; he's into strong women who know how to pout prettily and put on baby voices, and who will end up keeping his balls in her makeup bags.”

4 comments:

  1. Can Tana French Friday become a thing? ..because I would be all over that! After the FF post you & Cassie did, I was curious about French (especially since you know I love me some psychological thrillers!) It also didn't hurt that my mom LOVES this series. I have the first (have, in this case means "stole from my mom" tomato tomahto don't judge) and would love to do a binge read on vacation.

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  2. I'm very curious about Tana French! You already know that I'm not one for mysteries/thrillers, but I am fascinated when authors write about the psychology of the human mind and create complex characters. Both of these actually sound interesting to me, so yay you for making me pay attention ;)

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  3. In the Woods is the only book by French that I have read. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. After reading that it was your least favorite so far, I think I might pick up another one and give it a try! Thanks for the comparisons!

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  4. I read In the Woods several years ago, and I own the rest of her books, but I feel like I *should* re-read In the Woods first before continuing. Since you've read them out of order, do you think it's safe to skip the re-read and go straight for The Likeness?

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