Saturday, 24 March 2007

In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods
Tana French
Hodder Headline Ireland €??
Lucille Redmond

STOP all the clocks, cut off the telephone, order in enough turf for a glowing fire for a week and settle in to read a masterpiece.

In the Woods has everything: doomed lovers (two pair), child disappearance cases (x2), psychopaths (x2), crooked rezoning a gritty, witty unreliable narrator, a story that grabs you by the throat and drags you screaming through the woods.

A dead child is found on the Bronze Age altar discovered where a motorway is being driven through the sacred site of Knocknaree. She's the talented ballerina daughter of the man leading the anti-motorway fight.

The narrating cop is the survivor of another unsolved disappearance, in the glorious summer of 1984, giving him a spookily mendacious magic.

Add political dealing, the sacred honour of police partners, a family with something badly wrong, a weird archaeological crew and the horrifying pooka-haunted woods: the ingredients for something wonderful.

The story whips back and forth through brown-envelope territory, procedural matters and the loving, funny pair of cops investigating the murder with its spreading connections of dirty dealing.

Don't under any circumstances bring this book with you on holidays, unless you want to spend them reading in the hotel room.



Pageturners said...

I love this book. I love the way the ending perfectly expresses the characters. It's full of eccentricities, like the narrator's love for his police partner, and his memory of her cartwheeling across the lawns at the centre of Dublin Castle in the moonlight.

The characters (the police at the centre of the investigation more than those being investigated, who are fairly peripheral to the emotions of the story) are perfect in how they express their character. How the story plays out, including some very spooky stuff, is perfectly integrated.

It seems to be taking off; I notice it starting to appear on tip lists of crime thrillers to watch around the world.

Incidentally, I don't know if this would add to the enjoyment of the book or not, but it's a bit of a roman a clef - or at least uses current events and scandals as part of its plot.

Ireland has become terribly Dublin-centred in recent decades, as the agricultural economy of old Ireland gave way to the service industries - finance, technology, pharma - of today. Of the 4.2m population of the Republic of Ireland, between 1.2m and 2m of the population lives in the Greater Dublin area (the numbers depending on how you define Greater Dublin).

The surrounding counties - Louth, Kildare, Wicklow, even Wexford and Westmeath and Offaly - are now dormitory suburbs, with people driving for hours to get to work in Dublin.

Louth, positioned as it is on the road between Dublin and Belfast, is particularly troubled by awful, endless traffic jams.

So when the Government decided to run a motorway through the Skryne Valley, locals were delighted.

There was a howl of outrage from more or less everyone else. The valley is part of the site of Tara, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland, and the centre of a religion that has never quite sunk under the official beliefs of Christianity.

There has been fury over this road - no one outside Louth can understand why it can't be simply looped around to avoid this important archaeological and cultural site. And archaeologists have been frantically working ahead of the diggers to try to make some kind of study before the site is sunk beneath tons of concrete and metal.

While no one suggests any impropriety in the siting of the Tara road, there have also, separately, been a series of scandals when officials took huge amounts of money to rezone land, allowing developers to make fortunes. Rarely, these people are prosecuted; more often they have been the subject of tribunal of inquiry after tribunal of inquiry, where the country's best lawyers dig out information about cash transfers in brown envelopes and sudden baffling rezoning from agricultural to industrial or residential.

Tara's prehistory - which we all learned in school, though I don't think modern kids learn it - included supernatural matters such as the king who refused to be buried at Brugh na Bóinne (now called Newgrange), the sacred site where all High Kings were buried, and instead decided to make a new burial place at Ros na Rí.

The Boyne, who is, of course the cow goddess whose rich milk spilled to make the Milky Way, or Bealach na Bó Finne (the White Cow's Way) in Irish, rose up in outrage at this insult as the pallbearers crossed, snatched the bier from their shoulders and swept it back to Brugh na Bóinne.

Tara is one of the entrances to the otherworld known as the Sidhe in Irish mythology, where a parallel race of humans lives in wealth and happiness, but completely without conscience (a bit like property developers, now that I come to think of it).

In the old stories, various creatures came forth there to wreak havoc before being driven back by pure warriors with hideous weapons and useful cunning.

The Pooka referred to in the book: Púca in Irish, cognate with spook, bogey(man), Puck, etc.

This is a mischievous otherworldly creature that usually appears in the form of a horse and sometimes as a billy (or puck) goat. As a horse, it tends to lead travellers astray or bring them for wild rides to the other side of the country. In other forms it can be more sinister.

Sini88 said...

I loved this book, and how hes personality did get better after Cassie came around. I almost lived in the book, and my cosine where grumpy for that i where busy whit the book all the time, but i loved it thougt:)
Good work:P
*hugs from Norway*