Most people have no reason to know how memory can turn rogue and feral, becoming a force of its own and one to be reckoned with.Ireland, August 1984: two children go missing in a wood. Their friend Adam Ryan is found hours later, catatonic, his shoes filled with blood. He remembers nothing of what happened to him and his friends.
Losing a chunk of your memory is a tricky thing, a deep-sea quake triggering shifts and upheavals too far from the epicentre to be easily predictable. From that day on, any nagging little half-remembered thing shimmers with a bright aura of hypnotic, terrifying potential: this could be trivia, or it could be the Big One that blows your life and your mind wide open. (p. 212)
Twenty years later Adam is still haunted by survivor's guilt and the feeling that, in all the ways that matter, he never left the wood. Adam goes by the name Rob now; he's a Murder detective in Dublin. A little girl has been murdered in that same fateful wood, her body laid out on an ancient altar-stone. Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, investigating the case together, encounter a tangle of corruption and deceit. Pagans, property developers, the family of the dead girl and the neighbours who remember that other disappearance -- all have something to add to the patchwork. Ryan's greatest challenge, though, is the tantalising flicker of his own suppressed memories.
In the Woods deals with two cases; the murder of Katy Devlin and the unsolved disappearance of Peter Savage and Jamie Rowan. Neither case is neatly wrapped up, much to the dismay of several reviewers on Amazon. Yet the clues are there, and Rob Ryan is the first to admit that he's not a trustworthy narrator. "What I am telling you, before you begin this story, is two things -- I crave truth, and I lie." (p.4) In the Woods, if read with an open mind and a willingness to think outside the genre, contains solutions to both cases -- one of the characters even voices that solution (or at least what I think is the solution!)
It's also a novel that deals with friendship on several different levels: the friendship between young men (witnessed but not comprehended by Adam and his friends); the wordless synergy between Rob and Cassie; the lost friends for whom Rob Ryan still mourns.
I liked In the Woods immensely (enough to immediately read the other novel I own by the same author: watch this space for a review of The Likeness). French's writing is beautiful, passionate and evocative, and she's skilful enough to create a first-person narrative that privileges the reader: we know, we understand, more of the story than Ryan does. I'm glad French didn't feel the need to spell out what had happened: I'm glad she left Ryan lost.