I read In the Woods (Penguin 2007) by Tana French because my parents are hooked on Tana’s books. Waiting for her latest to come out was a replay of the countdown to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (an excellent read if you’re one of the five people who hasn’t read this series yet. I tried to get an ARC of it to be daughter of the year by providing early access. No dice, but I did get some temporary dragon tattoos. Twice. Maybe I’ll do a giveaway here the next time I run across those. Now you all have something to look forward to).
Anyway, I went into this book with high expectations. My family tends to have good taste. They weren’t wrong about this one, either. First of all, there is an UNRELIABLE NARRATOR. An unreliable narrator is one of my favorite literary devices. (Yes, I have those. Judge away. That and my affection for Zachary Levi are reasons why I should probably join Nerd HQ with a quickness.) Detective Ryan tells you on page 4 that he lies. You don’t even have to figure his unreliableness out for yourself. However, you forget that he warned you until he reminds you again at the end that he was very upfront about his untruthfulness, and then you remember and you get all angry with yourself for believing him all along when if you’d just paid attention to page 4 you would have known better. I’ve decided not to beat myself up about it, though, because I was distracted by Ryan’s deep, dark Secret. When he was twelve, his two best friends disappeared one day while they were playing in the woods. Ryan was found by searchers hours later wearing shoes filled with BLOOD and clutching a tree for dear life with no memory of what had transpired that day. No trace of his friends was ever found. See? Distracting, right? Takes your mind right off of the whole “I lie” bit.
The Secret is the most interesting and the most irritating part of this book. It’s interesting because of the whole vanished-without-a-trace thing, the amnesia thing, and the unsolved case thing. I was fascinated by it the entire time. Honestly, I didn’t care about the murder that adult Ryan was supposed to be solving nearly as much as I cared about the Secret. I’m going to warn you right now (SPOILERS AHEAD – STOP NOW IF YOU CARE), you don’t find out what happened to the two missing kids. I found this infuriating. Ryan spends the whole book dwelling on his past, getting bits and pieces of his memory back, and nothing is resolved. It goes back to being a cold case and Ryan loses what bits of memory he had about his friends. If anything, he’s further from the truth than ever. My recent viewing of Alias tells me that he should have done hypnotherapy regression to figure out what happened that day, but it’s possible that the creators of Alias have overplayed how effective a technique it actually is in recovering lost memories. Tana may have done actual research about it instead of relying on television writers to provide her with actual information. Or she may enjoy torturing me with bits and pieces of an unsolved disappearance and have no intention of providing a viable solution.
The Secret runs through the background of the story, which is actually a pretty standard murder mystery: little girl found dead, detectives follow up and solve the case. However, the victim is found in the woods where Ryan’s friends disappeared, so when he accepts the case without telling the chief that he’s the Adam Ryan who was left behind, you know that bad things are in store. From that point forward, the entire story is the proverbial train wreck: you can’t stop it from happening, but you can’t stop watching, either. Ryan thinks he can handle it. He wants to solve this mystery from his hometown, perhaps thinking that it will help resolve some of his issues. Unfortunately, he’s wrong about that. He makes countless errors. Things go awry. The case falls apart. Everything is spinning out of control, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He’s screwed up too much, and it affects every part of his life. I know that this doesn’t sound like something that you will want to read, but you should. The writing is excellent. The story is compelling, even if you don’t resolve the old mystery. And Tana has written two more books, so maybe it will come up again (*clings to this unlikely shred of hope*). Fortunately, they center around other people in this world. Detective Ryan is a bit of a Debbie Downer, so I don’t know that I could take two more books of him obsessing over things. And lying about them, although I’d be on to him this time. There are only so many train wrecks that a person can watch before they have to quit standing by the tracks, and I don’t trust Ryan enough to believe he won’t cause another one. Once again, it’s possible that I’ve become too invested.