In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1), by Tana French

Nine stars

After much waiting and some significant ‘biblio’ peer pressure, I have finally decided to take the plunge into the world of Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad. In the summer of 1984, three children went missing in the woods on the outskirts of Dublin. When authorities arrived, they found one boy, Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan, delirious and unsure what had happened to him. The other two were presumed dead, their bodies never found. Flashing forward two decades, Ryan has recreated himself, using his middle name, and finds himself working as a Homicide detective in Dublin. Partnered with his best friend, Cassie Maddox, they are used to the most gruesome of scenes. When Ryan and Maddox are called to an archeological dig site, they discover the body of twelve year-old Katy Devlin, buried under a ceremonial headstone. This sparks many disturbing memories for Ryan, as it is the exact location of his childhood trauma. While beginning to amass clues in the Devilin murder, Ryan is forced to revisit his past, told in a number of developing flashbacks. He tries to make sense what happened to his two best friends as he remembers the news they shared leading up to that summer afternoon. The deeper Ryan and Maddox dig into the possible motives for the crime, the more suspects they unearth who might harbour the necessary grudge to kill young Katy. Could the murder investigation hold the key to solving the crime from that long ago summer night? Ryan struggles to come to terms with this while also balancing the burden of having no means of helping the two people he loved the most. Simultaneously, his personal interactions with Maddox open paths of confusion and animosity that may be irreparable. French makes her debut in stunning fashion, sure to impress all those who enjoy a police procedural of the highest order.

While I have heard much of Tana French in the last few months, I had been inundated with new series in my 2016 reading journey that I was not sure I ought to add another collection to my list. However, the series held a few unique aspects, one of which was its setting in Ireland, a place I hold close to my heart. After allowing myself to try at least one novel, I discovered that French tells a story that proves as gripping as some of the great European series I have discovered in the past couple of years. The Rob Ryan character is both gripping and baffling, which caught my attention from the start. His work on the Homicide Squad and the struggles tied to his youth proved to be a thread throughout the story and remained relevant until the final pages. While French takes her time in the story’s progression, the drawn out development is done in such an effective way that the reader forgets the pace at which the story matures. The plot is both straightforward and convoluted, as the reader encounters twists and dead ends as they relate to motives for the crime. Strains between the characters help bridge portions of the investigation narrative, but might surge into being central plot lines for subsequent novels. French takes on a great deal in her debut piece but comes out of the experience firmly rooting herself in the genre by providing a unique flavour. I am eager to lose myself in her subsequent novels, which I hope are just as riveting.

Kudos, Madam French for blowing my mind and creating an instant fan out of me. I cannot wait to rush into the second novel, hoping that Ryan and the rest of the gang prove equally as compelling.

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