In the Woods is a gripping novel that is tightly written through its intensive focus on the investigation with just enough human drama and deadpan humor. Steven Crossley makes the audiobook a success with the accents and manner of speaking that makes it seem like he’s sitting across from you and not in a studio.
Set in rural Dublin, In the Woods is the first in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad detective murder series. As with many detective series, the detective Adam Ryan is a troubled soul. Ryan and his newly arrived partner to the homicide squad, Cassie, is assigned to investigate the death of a 12 year old child, Katie Develin. Ryan and Cassie (and later Sam) investigate all the angles including from the least credible, a satanic ritualized killing (because Katie’s body was found on top of a table stone that is part of an archeological dig) to the more plausible though likely impossible, revenge against the father for organizing opposition to the building of a roadway through a historical site to a serial killer believed to have kidnapped and killed two kids years before to a sexual predator turned murderer as well as looking closely at the family, who are always the first to come under suspicion.
Ryan’s troubles stem from the disappearance and presumed death of his two best friends during Ryan’s youth one afternoon in the woods surrounding the estate of a fictionalized Knocknaree. (There is a real Knocknaree; it is 185 km south of Dublin). A blood stain and another piece of evidence located where Katie’s body was found seemingly links Katie’s murder to the earlier disappearances and triggers Ryan’s memories which overtake him and just about proves fatal to the solving of Katie’s murder, Ryan’s loss of Cassie as a partner, friend, and soulmate, and the derailment of Ryan’s career.
In the last third of the book, (after Katie’s killer is arrested), In the Woods explores what it means to call someone a psychopath and how those close to them, particularly mothers, tend to unwittingly aid and abet (and sometimes actively as in Son: A Psychopath and His Victims by Jack Olsen) in their child’s crimes in the guise of protecting their offspring and the tragic consequences that often follow from insulating from accountability a killer or as in Katie’s case (as well as in many true life cases) a psychopath who can convince a gullible person(s) to murder those they hardly know without realizing until trial or in prison that they have been played.