Thursday, 2 June 2011

In The Woods by Tana French

I seem to be reading more crime fiction lately; not necessarily a bad thing. The genre relies heavily on strong plot and characterisation, tools of writing that always bear further study. There’s often a lot of booze as well...


French’s debut is written through the eyes of Dublin DI Rob Ryan, a man who admits at the start of the book that he tells lies, a man who is also falling apart under the weight of his own past. More than partial to drinking solitary vodka, he keeps a private stash in his room:

I poured myself a drink – I keep a bottle of vodka and one of tonic behind my books...

Working on a case involving a murdered child, Ryan is getting too close for comfort to his detective partner, Cassie Maddox, and when it transpires that the body has been found in the same wood where two of his childhood friends disappeared over twenty years before, he finally loses his grip on reality. After nearly punching a suspect during an interview, he decides that the best thing to do is get drunk.

I got drunk that night, banjoed drunk, drunker than I’d been in about fifteen years. I spent half the night sitting on the bathroom floor, staring glassily at the toilet and wishing I could just throw up and get it over with. The edges of my vision pulsed sickeningly with every heartbeat, and the shadows in the corners flicked and throbbed and contorted themselves into spiky, nasty little crawling things that were gone in the next blink. Finally I realised that, while the nausea showed now signs of getting better, it probably wasn’t going to get any worse. I staggered into my room and fell asleep on the covers without taking off my clothes.

It goes downhill from here for Ryan and his subsequent flashback in the woods brings about a near breakdown. He finishes the book in professional and personal torment and the bottle seems to be his only friend:

I....locked myself in my room and drank vodka, slowly and purposefully, until four in the morning.

French’s characters are the strongest part of the book, and in Rob Ryan she gives us a palpable examination of a troubled soul.

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