The book is often described as a psycho thriller, which it not wrong but nevertheless give a wrong impression: it is much more than that. On the first 400 of its never boring 600 pages, IN THE WOODS reads like a crossbreed of a classical whodunit and James Ellroy’s THE BLACK DAHLIA.
The corpse of a young girl is found on an altar stone on an archaeological excavation site. She had been clubbed and suffocated and an object was inserted into her vagina to suggest a rape ...
There seems to be no plausible motives to explain the murder and still several lines of investigation are followed. The father of the girl is a chairman of a citizens’ action committee that wants to prevent the construction of a motorway which would destroy the site of the excavation. Much money is at stake and he receives anonymous and threatening telephone calls. The family itself seems strange, somewhat deranged, as if there is something wrong ... but the detectives cannot put their finger on it. And then there is the excavation site, an archaeological treasure situated on an old pagan sanctuary, sacrificed by politicians to build the motorway at exactly that place.
Substantial investigational police work is done, several tracks are followed, a lot of working days are deployed, but all this without any results.
The small village where the crime happened had been the scene of a crime once before. At that time three children, all 12 years old, two boys and one girl, played as they usually did in a small wood. At the end of the day two of them were missing and never found. The third stood at a tree, scratching with his finger nails at the bark with his shoes filled with blood. What happened he doesn’t know and will never know: he has suffered a total blackout. Adam Ryan was the name of the boy; now he is Rob Ryan and he is one of the detectives who try to solve the case of the murdered girl.
His partner, Cassie, a young woman, together maintain a very close and deep platonic friendship. She knows his secret, which accompanies the investigation, hinders it, advances it.
The coexistence of the personal relationship of Cassie and Rob and the unfathomable secret, which plagues Rob and threatens to destroy him, lends a very intensive atmosphere to the book.
And then, on the last 200 pages, as the case is about to be solved, French whirls and shuffles the different strands of the plot and creates a emotional cauldron with a satisfying solution.
It is a daring book. A lesser writer would have abbreviated the lush text, reined in the narrative flow and dealt with the end in a more conventional manner. However, this is multilayered, moves stylistically from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases.
“I never knew and never will whether either Cassie or I was a great detective, though I suspect not, but I know this: we made a team worthy of bard-songs and history books. This was our last and greatest dance together, danced in a tiny interview room with darkness outside and rain falling soft and relentless on the roof, for no audience but the doomed and the dead.”Reviewed by Bernd Kochanowski and republished with the kind permission of International Crime.