There was a lot I enjoyed about this book, but I had two very large problems with it, both to do with Rob Ryan. The first is fairly spoilertastic, and less to do with his character than with what I felt was a strange choice on the part of the author. Essentially, you never find out what happened to him as a child. I can perhaps understand this if Tana French intends to eventually tell us what happened in the course of the series, but it makes this installment feel unfinished. There’s also then the issue I had of wanting to be done with Ryan (in fact, the only reason I’m interested in reading the next book is because it purportedly focuses on Cassie) which is the second problem I had, that Ryan is incredibly tiresome.
Again, I don’t know if Ms French’s characterization of him is deliberate, if we’re supposed to find him so insufferable, and I do appreciate the fact that, right up until he makes the incredibly poor decisions that destroy his relationship with Cassie, he actually seems about average, if not outright likeable. Yes, he’s under a lot of stress, and yes, he’s reliving his childhood trauma, but I don’t for an instant believe that what he did is more a result of those than of a carefully nurtured flaw in his character whereby his is the most important, if not the only pain that matters to him. And I’d even find his egotism forgivable if he weren’t also so remarkably stupid. There’s one obnoxious passage where he breaks the fourth wall and talks about what a liar he is and how we, the readers, must have been just as hoodwinked as he was, and I just wanted to shout, “No, you useless excuse of a homicide detective, I knew the answer about 40% of the way in because I’m not a fucking moron!” And then just the stupid, stupid thing he does that compromises the entire case, and no, I’m not talking about keeping quiet about his true identity but just common attention to detail. Unbefuckinglievable.
This book would have worked fine as a character study of a deeply flawed individual, but as a police procedural it was horrendous. The saving grace was Cassie, and even then I felt a little uncomfortable at how close she came to being objectified as the “cool girl” (see: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which has only improved in my memory) by the sad sack narrator who done her wrong. You’d think for once that my Personal Issues would have me take some sort of satisfaction in what mirrors, at least emotionally, an episode from my own history, but it felt… self-serving, as if Ms French was trying to understand and excuse a toxic personality while simultaneously beatifying his victim. It always bothers me when a book forces an agenda at the expense of the story, and I’m afraid that that’s just what Ms French does with In The Woods.