Okay, folks, listen to me carefully.
Run - don't walk - to read this book.
Run. Run fast!
If you are in a book club, "In the Woods" needs to be your next selection. If you are a person that only reads one book a year, make this your yearly book.
This book was so good, I was tempted to chew on the binding. (Paper has been sounding good to me lately - maybe pregnancy-related? Pica, anyone?) Also, I cried when it ended, not because of the content, but more because I was not yet ready to say good-bye to the characters. They truly felt like old friends. I've only felt this way about two books in the past - "I Know This Much is True" by Wally Lamb, and the first Harry Potter book. Thankfully, Dominick & Co. reappeared in Lamb's most recent novel, "The Hour I First Believed" and J.K. Rowling was kind enough to give us six more Harry installments. I don't know if Ms. French will continue the characters of Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, but here's hoping...
What, you are asking, is this wonderful book about? Oh, child murder. Possible child sex crimes. Abduction. Grief. Loss. Survivor guilt. You know, fun stuff. If there is a way to make child murder upbeat (much like a comedy about the Holocaust), Ms. French has done it masterfully. "Upbeat" is probably too positive of a word, but considering the subject matter, the novel is written in such a quick, quirky manner, I found myself giggling through various parts. It's in first-person narrative, which helps, the main character has such a sarcastic wit to him, it's hard to not smile.
Within the first five pages, readers learn that Adam Rob Ryan is not your usual Irish detective. At the age of twelve, he and his two best friends went into the woods to play one night near their suburban Dublin homes, but only child came out. Adam was found by police hours later, clinging to a tree, nearly catatonic, with his sneakers full of blood. Police were never able to solve the crime, and the other two children were never found. The mystery of what happened that night haunts him to present day, despite his attempts to keep his past a secret.
Now at the age of 32, while working on the Murder squad, Adam (now Rob) and his partner Cassie find themselves working on a child murder case in the exact same wooded area that Rob's friends disappeared. Everyone is a suspect; the little girl's highly dysfunctional family, the archeological crew that was working on a dig in the woods, the politicians who want to pave over the woods and build a new motorway, mysterious men wearing dark tracksuits that were seen in the area. The murdered little girl's father is head of the organization to stop the motorway from being built, making him (and his family) the perfect target for overzealous city council members and their agenda. And most importantly, is there a link between what happened to Rob's friends and present day?
I don't want to give too much away, because the ending really does satisfy. Ms. French could have made this is into a classic 'who-dunnit' novel, and it still would have been a solid read. But she goes farther than that. She explores the adorably platonic relationship between Rob and Cassie. She highlights what it must be like for Rob, the only living survivor of a hideous crime (yet with no memory it) to exist in everyday society, his secret just barely below the surface. And best of all, she describes in what I considered near-perfect detail what it is like to work in a shadowy, murky job yet at the end of the day, be able to let go of work stress and be, well, normal.
That last part is what really hit home for me. While police work is clearly different than therapy, there is still a lot of overlap. Unless you work (or have worked) in those fields, it's almost impossible to describe what it's like to come home and make a salad for dinner after witnessing a marriage blow up in your face, only hours early. Or to fold laundry after spending the day with a convicted juvenile sex offender who told you in ludicrious detain the extent of his crimes. There is such a fine line between the commonplace and obscene; yet, if you aren't exposed to it on a regular basis, it's easy to forget the obscene exists, or exists only in movies and literature.
What is more interesting is that unless you have worked in those fields, it's nearly impossible to understand what it is like to carry around that kind of information. Burnout in both fields is very high, and for good reason. When still in practice, there were times when I would find myself looking over my dinner at Brian, grilled chicken speared on my fork, desperately trying to pay attention to what he was saying while my mind wandered back my own day. Bipolar patient hospitalized. Adolescent girl still cutting. Depressed patient not responding to medication. Life doesn't stop just because you had a bad day, but it is hard when someone's worst day is your everyday.
Fellow therapist and co-worker Claudia and I used to commiserate over some of the more random things we'd hear in session. In an effort to better understand our clients, we spent tons of time researching their lifestyles and habits. Swinging. S&M. Diaper fetish. Pirates. And my personal favorite: furbies. (don't ask).We joked that if the FBI ever confiscated our computers, we'd have a lot of explaining to do.
If you don't have good support, it's enough to make a person go mad. That's why the relationship between Rob and Cassie comes across as so genuine to me; they work in this crazy world that no one else can even imagine.
The novel is well-written without being pretenious. While "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" was fairly heavy-handed with use of imagery, "In the Woods" is a much easier read but with the same depth and complexity. Ms. French also captures the world of modern Ireland brillantly without the use of stereotypes or excessive slang.
Overall, this has been one of the most satisfying books I've read all summer. I am dying to talk to someone else about it, so if you get a chance, read it. Then call me so we can discuss.
Okay, folks, listen to me carefully.
Think of this as the epilogue to Bridget Jones' story. Well, mostly. Bridget marries the handsome lawyer, starts a blog while on bedrest, and decides marathon running sounds like fun. Bridget goes through a divorce but keeps running. Hilarity ensues.