In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French

Dear Tana French,

Thank you for making it impossible for me to pick up any of the other books on my to-be-read shelf because I have to get through all three books in your Dublin Murder Squad series.

Sincerely,
Farin

Okay, seriously now.

I hadn’t heard of Tana French before this summer, and then, while I was at Penguin, I had three people recommend that I read her books. I borrowed In the Woods from my library shortly after my internship finished, but a slew of two week books meant that it was almost a month before I was able to pick it up. And when I did, I couldn’t put it down. The second I finished, I ran out to the library to pick up The Likeness, which I breezed through even though A Game of Thrones was due back first. Faithful Place is waiting for me as we speak.

In In the Woods, Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are the only ones in the offices of the Dublin Murder squad when a call comes in about a murder at an archaeological dig in Knocknaree. Rob Ryan and Knocknaree have a past: in 1984, he and two of his friends ran off into the woods, and when the police came to search for them, they only found a catatonic Rob clinging to a tree trunk, his shoes filled with blood. His two friends were never found.

Despite Cassie’s reservations and the risk to his career if his supervisors learn his secret, Rob agrees to take the case in hopes that he might finally be able to remember what happened to his friends.

The victim is 12-year-old Katy Devlin, a budding ballerina and a hometown hero. As Rob and Cassie delve into the Devlin family’s past, the traumatic events of Rob’s childhood begin to surface and affect his handling of the case. In the end, Rob makes a crucial mistake that jeopardizes everything, from his career in murder, to his relationship with Cassie, to his fine grip on the shreds of memory that were beginning to come together about that night in the woods.

The Likeness picks things up from Cassie’s point of view. After the Devlin case, she transfers out of Murder and into Domestic Violence and begins dating a former colleague, Sam. When he calls her, frantically, to meet him in a small Wicklow village, she can only wonder what’s made him so upset. Things become even more confusing when she encounters Frank Mackey, her old boss from undercover, where she’d worked prior to Murder. They bring Cassie to a farmhouse, where a young woman has been stabbed.

A young woman who looks exactly like Cassie and who has assumed Cassie’s undercover identity.

Mackey decides to seize the opportunity and have Cassie pose as the murdered woman and thus ferret out the killer. Cassie agrees, but when she becomes emotionally involved in the victim’s life, will she be able to complete her mission, or will she be absorbed into an undercover life, never to be seen again.

The first thing that struck me about both of these books is how Ms. French perfectly captures Ireland on the page. There were so many times during In the Woods where I thought, “That’s so Dublin!” It’s in the speech patterns of the characters, the attitudes, the visual descriptions of the rundown areas that so many people inhabit. It’s gritty and spot on and really made the books come alive.

The second was the characters. Let me be frank: there are moments where they are absolutely infuriating. I wanted to throttle Cassie several times during The Likeness, and Rob certainly doesn’t come off very well in the last few chapters of In the Woods. But they are human, and Ms. French gives great insight into how their cases affect them in their day-to-day lives without making them look like yet another crop of detectives who are too involved and too affected by their work.

The third was the cases themselves: they’re unsettling, and Ms. French does not hold back. The pacing is great, with just the right amount of details leaked at the right time, and I like that parts of the ending are a little ambiguous, though I can see how the ending of In the Woods might be too unresolved for some.

So, I may be a little late to the party, but I’m thrilled that I finally discovered Tana French, and I will be avidly following the adventures of the Dublin Murder squad.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French

  1. julie

    It took me 2 times to read all of In the Woods and I haven’t made it through The Likeness yet. The only book of hers that I read the first time around was Faithful Place. It wasn’t as dense for me as In the Wood. I found the case more interesting than In the Woods.

    I’ll be curious as to your thoughts on it when you finish it.

  2. Anonymous

    Glad you enjoyed the first two books, Farin. I think you’ll really like FAITHFUL PLACE. Also, next summer, we’re publishing the next Tana French novel, BROKEN HARBOR!

  3. Melanie Moore

    Found ‘In the woods’ in an apartment whilst on holiday in Sarasota and loved it! I am happy to say it helped to make my holiday! Also loved ‘The likeness.’ Melanie

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