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Book: In The Woods

January 2, 2009
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First: love the cover. And we all know how picky I am about book covers.

Second: Winner of the Edgar award for best debut novel, this was certainly very well-written and a great character-driven detective mystery.

Third: I loved about 3/4 of the book. The last 1/4 sort of let me down. But that’s because I kept hoping it would be something else. Neat and tidy, it was not.

So, the story is that back in 1984, three children go missing in the Irish woods. Only one of them turns up, covered in someone else’s blood, and so traumatized by whatever happened that not only can he not speak for weeks afterwards, he can never remember what actually happened.

Fast forward twenty years or so, and the boy is now a murder detective. He still can’t remember what happened. When a girl turns up dead in the same vicinity of the woods, he’s brought onto the case (although no one except his partner knows the truth about who he is). Are the crimes connected? What kind of a killer are we dealing with here? And what really happened 20 years ago?

So, totally absorbing and compelling setup, right? It seems this could have gone any number of ways, and right up until Rob (the main character) turns into an ass, I was completely enthralled. The last quarter of the book made sense, and the whodunit was solved (mostly) and characters acted like real people, which is satisfying in a certain way. But I felt the ending was a cop-out. I started to suspect what the ending would be about 3/4 of the way through, and I was right. It was a good ending, but I was left feeling somewhat disappointed somehow.

Mostly a character-driven (rather than crimescene-driven) book, this was quite good and I can see why it won an award. I feel like writing in some pieces of the mystery that I wish had gone a different way, however.

What was nice was the little bits of wry humor surprisingly dropped here and there, which made the book fun as well as absorbing. And I really loved the main two characters. Until, as I said, one of them turns into an ass.

I liked this book a lot because parts of it reminded me of my own childhood. Nothing that creepy ever happened, but we wished it would. We were close friends with two other families and one of them had a big (well, it seemed big) woods in their backyard. We would go out there and create intricate stories and scare ourselves looking at the rusted-out ancient abandoned car, making up gruesome stories about what happened to the driver, convinced that the rust was actually dried blood. Then we would come back and huddle in the playhouse out of the rain, eating tons of popcorn with butter and Spike seasoning.

(these are also the friends who came up with the Star Wars game that featured my brother — the baby — as Han Solo, frozen in carbonite, for hours, as we valiantly tried — in vain, of course — to rescue him. But that’s another story.)

Anyway. Great book, so-so ending (in my opinion). Glad I read it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. Do I wish it ended differently? Yes.

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