Tana French

8 01 2009

in-the-woods1the-likeness1I like mystery and suspense novels, but I generally think of them as brain popcorn – fun, tasty, not nutritional in any way.   So, when I read a review for a  mystery/thriller/suspense that sounds like that book may be more than a  typical detective story that leaves my brain a little  bloated by the end, I get excited.  Which is why when I read a review for Tana French’s In The Woods, I immediately requested it from the library.  And, oh my lands, this book was…shepherd’s pie – meaty and layered and intricate and nourishing and Irish.  And I didn’t give it much time to digest before getting her second novel, a quasi-sequel, The Likeness.

Both books have good plots with detectives as the lead characters and narrators.  The crimes are deceptively simple, straightforward murders, and seemingly unsolvable with the cases unfolding slowly, suspects that come and go, leads that die and resurface, filled with frustrations at every step.  However, the real beauty of the books comes from the characters themselves, their internal struggles and developments.  Ms. French throws the reader into minds of these detectives, who are filled with doubt and demons, as they work to figure out what happens when traumas are buried, how tragedies can tear people apart, how to hold on to a relationship when you aren’t sure you can hold on to yourself, how to maintain integrity and dignity when your world is thrown topsy-turvy.  Confusion and anguish haunt our narrators, with voices strong enough to leave the reader just as twisted.  They aren’t completely lovable, or even likable at times; they make horrible decisions and seem to have no idea how to fix their mistakes.  The conclusions are messy and a bit unsettling – as unsatisfying as so many ends in life can and will be.

Both of these novels remind me of Donna Tartt’s books – plot-wise, In The Woods is a bit like The Little Friend; The Likeness similar to A Secret History.  But for both authors, the stories aren’t solely about the crimes committed, but about the journey to solve more personal mysteries.  I loved these books, the descriptions, the plot, the pacing all drew me in and held me captive to the last page.  If you want something a bit more substantial, a book that will stick to your ribs, get these.

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