Category: Mystery Review (page 2 of 4)

Author Post: Francine Mathews

Francine Mathews writes a variety of genres. In addition to police procedural mysteries and spy thrillers, she has written a series of historical novels about Jane Austin acting as an amateur sleuth under the pen name Stephanie Barron.

Public domain image of Nantucket from NASA

Francine Mathews Novels

Merry Folger series

  1. Death in the Off Season (1994) – reviewed below
  2. Death in Rough Water (1995) -reviewed below
  3. Death in a Mood Indigo (1997)
  4. Death in a Cold Hard Light (1998)
  5. Death on Nantucket (2017)

In this police procedural mystery series, Detective Meredith (Merry) Folger is a third generation police officer who lives on the Island of Nantucket off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Caroline Carmichael series

  1. The Cut Out (2001) – reviewed below
  2. Blown (2005)

Francine Mathews worked for a few years as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. She used her experience to write the Caroline Carmichael novels.

Death in the Off Season*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Detective Meredith Folger’s father, who is chief of police, assigns Merry her first murder investigation when the mysterious brother of a prominent citizen ends up drowned in a cranberry field. Did the murderer intend to kill the victim, who had been hiding in Brazil for a decade? Or was the true target his brother Peter, a local cranberry farmer?

The Nantucket setting is intriguing and Mathews weaves in local details, such as the difficulty for residents to find affordable housing on an island that fills with wealthy tourists each summer. The plot is nicely complicated by the twist that we don’t know who the intended target is. There’s also a red herring or two.

The one weakness is the dialogue, which consists mainly straightforward interrogations with little realistic conflict between the participants and no subtext. It could have been richer.


Death in Rough Water

In the second of the series, Mathews delves deeply into the economic woes of the fishing industry on Nantucket. Merry’s close friend Del returns to the island after the death of Del’s’ father, fisherman Joe Duarte. It looks like Del is going to take over her father’s boat and fish for swordfish, but she is brutally murdered.  Merry’s father orders Merry to take a vacation. Instead, she continues to investigate her friend’s death.

For this novel, the intrigue builds around the father of Del’s daughter. If Merry can discover the toddler’s father’s true identity, it might reveal the motive for the murder. Mathews also weaves in a subplot around an anti-fishing activist and an explosion at Town Pier.

I was a bit disappointed when one of the side characters, who had been an admirable person up to this point, goes crazy with jealousy. It seemed like an unrealistic and contrived way to generate another suspect. The author could have created another character — one who was less stable from the get go — to fill the jealous role and it would have been more believable.


The Cut Out

When CIA analyst Caroline Carmichael discovers that her husband Eric — who is supposed to have been dead for two years — is actually alive and possibly working for the enemy, she is shocked. When the director sends her to find Eric and figure out what is happening, Caroline jumps at the chance even though she knows she’s being used.

Unlike with her Merry Folger books, this novel is filled with a huge cast of characters, so many that it is hard to keep track of them at times. Some of the characters were flat and not memorable, which didn’t help. The characters also travel all over the world, so the setting is more complex than the Merry Folger books.

The plot is also more tangled and and much, much darker.  As is usual with the spy thriller genre, the protagonist spends most of her time trying to figure out who she can rely on in her own team, including whether she can trust her own husband, rather than battling the bad guys.

In an unusual choice, the author writes flashbacks in present tense. I found it disorienting, which may have been the intention. After all, Caroline has just learned her husband is not who and where she thought he was.

The dialogue is better in this novel because everyone is lying and covering up their true agendas.


Overall, I enjoyed the Merry Folger books a great deal and would like to read more in the series.



About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

Sujata Massey: Author Post and The Pearl Diver Review

Sujata Massey taught English in Japan for several years.  She used her experiences to create the delightful Rei Shimura mystery series.

Novels by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura series:

  • The Salaryman’s Wife (1997) –review
  • Zen Attitude (1998)
  • The Flower Master (1999)
  • The Floating Girl (2000)
  • The Bride’s Kimono (2001)
  • The Samurai’s Daughter (2003)
  • The Pearl Diver (2004) – reviewed below
  • The Typhoon Lover (2005)
  • Girl in a Box (2006)
  • Shimura Trouble (2008)
  • The Kizuna Coast (December 2014)

Daughters of Bengal:
The Sleeping Dictionary

The Perveen Mistry Investigations
The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018) (historical mystery)


The Pearl Diver* by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Rei Shimura has been banned from Japan and is now living in Washington D.C. with her boyfriend Hugh. When her cousin is kidnapped, Rei leaps into action to find her. One thing leads to another and soon she’s also trying to find a Japanese woman who disappeared many years earlier. Are the two cases linked?

Although the novel is no longer set in Japan like the first novel, I still like how Massey works in details of Japanese culture, especially Japanese antiques, food (bento boxes), and pearl diving. The new setting is also concrete and detailed. Massey has a fine touch with setting.

The plot is rich, with many well-developed characters. The front matter includes a “Cast of Characters” list with snippets about a dozen of the more prominent characters. Character lists are always handy references, but aren’t necessary to enjoy this book. Unlike some other novels, the author does a good job of introducing new people so that it is easy to remember who they are.

Compared to her debut novel, which had a few bumps, this one is well done. I particularly liked the ending, which I won’t reveal.

I want to read more of the novels in this series.


Sujata Massey Author Post

Because I have been reading a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of what I’ve read. I thought the blog would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I’ve read. To get more organized I’m going to try to create an author post for each author with lists of novels. I will update later by linking to newer reviews and marking books as read .

#amreading Hugo Marston Mystery Series by Mark Pryor

Today we have the mystery series featuring Hugo Marston by author Mark Pryor. You can see all the books in order at the author’s website.

With the exception of The Button Man, which is a prequel to The Bookseller, these novels are set in Paris. They feature former FBI profiler Hugo Marston who provides security for US embassies.

The first in the series is The Bookseller.

The Bookseller: The First Hugo Marston Novel* (2012)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When someone kidnaps  elderly bookstall owner Max, his friend Hugo Marston can’t do anything to stop it.  As head of security at the US embassy, Marston launches a search with the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green.

The Crypt Thief: A Hugo Marston Novel* (2013)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Two tourists have been murdered in Père Lachaise cemetery in front of Jim Morrison’s grave. In a confusing twist, the killer also stole parts of the skeleton of a dancer from another era.  When another dancer’s grave is broken into, Hugo Marston begins to wonder about the killer’s real motive.

I really like one line on page 11

He stepped out of the shadows and walked toward them, his gun parting the darkness in front of him.

The gun parting the darkness is such a great visual.

The newest by Mark Pryor:

The Sorbonne Affair: A Hugo Marston Novel* (2017)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Hugo Marston dismisses American author Helen Hancock’s idea she’s being watched until she discovers a spy camera hidden in her room at the Sorbonne Hotel. When an hotel employee who planted the camera and one of Helen’s students are both killed, the pressure is on to find the killer before it is too late.


Author Mark Pryor has a fascinating background. He started out as a newspaper reporter in England (among other things), but now works as an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas. How did that happen? Plus, he has all these novels. Someone should be writing about him.

As a sucker for setting, I enjoy that the books are set in Paris, as well as London and Barcelona.

I also enjoy that books, librarians, and authors often figure prominently, from the bookseller in his first novel, to an American author in his most recent.


With all they have going for them, I have to admit I had a bit of difficulty getting drawn into the books. There was never a deep emotional connection. The story never went to the next level, pulling the reader along, which is too bad because the potential is there.


Enjoyable to discover new things about the history of the areas he writes about.

#amreading #mystery The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey

Let’s take a look at The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey for our ongoing research into older mystery series.

The Salaryman’s Wife* by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

First in the Rei Shimura mystery series, originally published in 1997.

Summary:  Rei Shimura is a 27-year-old Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo, where she barely scrapes by teaching English. During a New Year’s vacation to the Japanese Alps, she discovers the body of one of the guests at the minshuku (family-run inn) where she is staying. Before long she’s caught up in the investigation while trying to avoid becoming the next victim.


This novel is all about the Japanese setting. The lodging, the food, the trips to various village and cities all play an essential part in pulling the reader into the mystery. Because the author spent time teaching English in Japan and takes frequent trips there, she is able to move past the tourist experience. She expertly captures the conflicts and inconsistencies between modern and traditional culture, as well as between Rei’s two sides, American and Japanese culture.


Public domain photo of Mount Fuji via Good Free Photos


The main character, Rei Shimura is in-your-face strong, yet sweetly unaware at times.  Her Japanese-American heritage adds depth to the story. It shows the difficulties of seeming to belong to two cultures and yet being fully accepted by neither. Author Sujata Massey’s parents were from Germany and India, so she understands the conflicts of a mixed-cultural background.

The characters in the story are diverse and interesting. At times it felt like there were way too many characters, some of whom played little role in moving the plot forward. By the end, we find out at least some of the characters who seemed extraneous were in fact involved in ingenious ways. For example, she gives a meal to a homeless man in one scene. Later on he rescues her.

Sujata Massey handles the dialogue well, especially the banter between Rei and her love interest Hugh. At times, however, the content of the dialogue seemed contrived. For example, Rei meets a powerful businessman for the first time and grills him for intensely personal information. He gives her everything she wants straight out. It would have been more realistic if she had to coerce him or if he had toyed with her before spilling. This is a problem I have as a writer, too. Instead of giving each individual in the conversation their own or an opposing agenda, as is the case in the real world, they simply say what is needed to move the story forward.


Sex Scenes

In the book we are using for our ongoing reading challenge, The Bestseller Code, the authors state that very few bestsellers contain sex as a topic. It seems like some older mysteries, like this one,  do have sex scenes. Massey’s scenes work well because the sex isn’t gratuitous. The scenes move the story forward because they cement the relationship between two characters and gives them a realistic motive to work together.


Although rough in spots, there are enough gems in this book that I enjoyed it. I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.

#amreading #mystery: The Falls by Ian Rankin

After having read the first in the Inspector John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (previous review),  let’s compare it to the twelfth in the series, The Falls.


The Falls* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Art history student Philippa “Flip” Balfour goes missing and her rich parents immediately pull strings to make the case a priority. When the new Chief Super Gill Templer assigns Detective Inspector John Rebus the task of checking out a doll found in a casket, he’s pretty sure it isn’t important to the case. Or is it?

What is similar between the two books:

Ian Rankin knows how to write a perfect first line. The first line of Knots and Crosses was eerie:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

For The Falls, it is intriguing:

‘You think I killed her, don’t you?’

As to be expected, both novels are set in Edinburgh, Scotland and the surrounding countryside. Also, both novels give a detailed picture of the inner workings of Scottish police departments.

Once again John Rebus is only one cog in a much larger investigative machine. Once again others, particularly his female colleagues, point him in the right direction or dig up pertinent clues.

Another similarity between the two novels is that there are puzzles to figure out, which makes sense because the main character’s last name “Rebus” is a type of word puzzle. In Knots and Crosses the names of the previous victims is a puzzle/clue. In The Falls, the puzzles — part of a role-playing game — are a central thread of the story. Regardless of his last name, in both novels it isn’t Rebus who works out most of the puzzles, but other characters.

What is different about the two books:

An obvious difference between the two books is the length. Knot and Crosses is a respectable 256 pages.  At 399 pages, The Falls is significantly longer.  Much of the difference in length is due a substantially more complex plot (details would be spoilers).

Some of the differences may be due to the fact that the two books were by different publishers. In Knots and Crosses, there are double quotation marks around the dialogue. In The Falls, the dialogue is set off by single quotations marks. Single quotation marks are more common in British novels.

Another difference is the theme of promotion and retirement within the police department. When Chief Super Farmer retires, John Rebus visits him. He notices how tidy Farmer’s house is and realizing he might be at loose ends, asks Farmer to help out with small pieces of the investigation. An older Rebus looks ahead and is a bit frightened about what his own retirement might look like, whereas in the first book he looked back on what had happened when he was young.


Keeping a mystery series moving ahead is no small achievement. Ian Rankin does a wonderful job creating compelling, complex characters and a multi-layered plot. As Rankin and his characters mature, we can only imagine what lies ahead.

#amreading Mystery: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

With an opportunity to meet some great mystery authors coming up in September, I’ve been doing some background reading. Up today is Knots and Crosses: An Inspector Rebus Novel (Amazon affiliate link) by Ian Rankin.

There may be a few minor spoilers.


This is the first Inspector John Rebus mystery novel, originally published in 1987.

Summary:  A serial killer is strangling young girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of the detectives assigned to the case, John Rebus is battling his own demons, which include debilitating flashbacks and mysterious anonymous notes. Can he figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together in time?

Mystery Novel Dissection:

The novel starts out with an excellent hook, from the first line:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

That certainly sets the tone and grabs the reader’s attention.

From there, Rankin introduces the characters, starting with Detective John Rebus, the main character. Rebus was in the army, and trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) before becoming a police officer. He also suffers from flashbacks to memories that he has repressed, in many ways making him like Detective Rob Ryan in In The Woods (previous review). In fact, I did wonder if Tana French was influenced by Rankin’s writing.

John’s younger brother Michael is a hypnotist who uses his talents for entertainment purposes. At first it looks like Michael is a side character, but later we learn he is a form of Chekhov’s gun. His ability to hypnotize others helps solve the crime.

Jack Morton is another detective and John’s friend. In one of those funny things that happen when writing, Jack Morton on page 37:

…was thirty-five, six years younger than Rebus.

On page 38,

Morton had been a policeman for two decades…

Doing the math, Jack Morton had become a police officer at a very young 15 years old! Oops… Perhaps “nearly” two decades?

Rather than portrayed as a superhero who does it all, John Rebus gets a lot of help from others along the way, including from a female public information officer (love interest)  who figures out the significance of the anonymous notes. In fact, the help from other people goes a little too far at times, making Rebus seem the passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator. It does make him seem believable and human, though.

In the end, author Rankin makes good use of the “ticking clock” to build suspense towards the climax. Will Rebus be able to find the killer in time, before he kills again as he has promised?


For what I’ve read Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses, so he did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. It is a riveting mystery that is well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and believable plot. Rankin doesn’t provide a lot of red herrings or overt clues, but it builds logically to a suspenseful climax. I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

The next mystery novel in the series is Hide and Seek: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin.


Photograph from

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  In The Woods is also the forty-first book we’ve read, which means we are 2/5 of the way through the list.  Can you believe we’ve read 41 books?  That also means that, between the two of us, Roberta and I have written 82 book reviews for this challenge alone, which is no small accomplishment.  We should throw ourselves a virtual celebratory party!

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

For a summary of In The Woods, read Roberta’s Writer’s Review and her excellent description of the eight key components of a plot.

Debut Novels

Eight of the books we’ve read so far in this challenge were debut novels:  The Mill River Recluse, The Weird Sisters, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Silent Wife, The White Tiger, The Weight of Silence, The Marriage Bargain, and now In The Woods.  So 1/5 of the books read so far were debut novels.  I find that fact interesting – it means that 1/5 of the authors figured out early on or intuitively already knew what makes a great novel.

For this Bestseller Code Challenge we are reading through the list of books in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers for several reasons, one of which is to see how our tastes in books compares with the computer model.  In The Bestseller Code, the authors discuss a writer’s style and how that factors into making a bestselling book.


In short, style is important: it is the mechanism through which plot, theme, and character get delivered.  Style is at once mechanical and organic; it springs from a combination of nature and nurture; from innate ability and practiced craft.  And nowhere is the importance of style seen more vividly than in the work of those authors who are hitting the NYT list for the first time.  Saying it is difficult to make it straight onto the NYT list with a first novel is a great understatement.

First Lines, or #BookBeginnings

One of the elements of novelistic style the authors of The Bestseller Code discuss in great detail is the first line of a novel:

We believe that the first line of a novel can tell you a lot about the writer’s command of style.

They give three examples of famous first lines and then explain:

One thing that is immediately clear about all three of these classic writers is that their first sentences create voice.  Someone is talking to us, and that someone sounds authentic, in command of some sort of authority.  There is no wavering, or cautiousness, or lack of surety.  All novelists have the challenge of creating some sort of selfhood, and readers might note that they tend to keep reading when that selfhood, attractive or not, at least knows itself and leads its reader.  The best writers – or those that will achieve the most readers – are able to establish this kind of presence from the opening sentence with tiny and seemingly effortless modulations in style.

This is one reason why Roberta begins the discussion of each of our challenge novels with a BookBeginnings post.  The first line is an important style feature and bestselling authors know how to craft a first line that will hook their readers.  For a debut novelist, this ability is even more important – they cannot rely upon their faithful following of readers to buy their books because they don’t have a faithful following yet!

Here’s the first line from Chapter 1 of In The Woods:

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective.

We don’t yet know if our narrator is male or female, but we do know that we’re being cautioned about him/her being a detective.  Why would he/she warn us about this fact?

This is the stuff a good stylist needs to recognize: that the first sentence is the hook and the hook is a mixture of voice and conflict achieved through the mechanics of diction and syntax. – The Bestseller Code

Are you hooked already?  I was.

Page Turner

From the very first sentence, In The Woods was a page turner.  I enjoyed the interplay of the two main detectives, Rob (“I am a detective”) and Cassie.  I was intrigued by the inner conflict of Rob as he tried to solve one murder that took place in the same location where, twenty years before, his two best friends disappeared and he was left with no memory of what happened to them.

In The Woods is not just a mystery, it is a psychological mystery, and a very good one at that.  I loved the little seeds and distractions that French left for the reader to pick up – I kept wondering who the psychopath was that Cassie warned the reader about and if maybe it was Rob, our detective narrator.

While the ending of the novel wasn’t all I wanted, I can see why French didn’t resolve the twenty year old case.  Rob does his best throughout the book to avoid memories, to avoid dealing with his past in any way, and that spills over into every aspect of his life, so it would have been terribly out of character for him to remember what happened to him and his friends all those years ago.  Knowing French has turned this Dublin Murder Squad division of the Irish police into a series, I hope she eventually resolves that old case, but I guess I’ll have to read the series to find out!


Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018

Three Mystery Series Set in Arizona

Someone recently asked me whether there are any mystery novels set in Arizona. I’m not sure how many there are altogether, but three mystery series by authors with ties to Arizona came to mind right away.

1. Sheriff Joanna Brady series by J. A. Jance

Judith Ann Jance grew up in Bisbee, Arizona and graduated from The University of Arizona. After moving to Seattle and setting her first mystery novel series there, she returned to her roots for the Sheriff Joanna Brady series and set it in Bisbee.

The first in this series is Desert Heat.


I’ve written several posts about J. A. Jance, including a WhoDunIt video, summary of her first novels, and discussion of what launched her career in suspense/mysteries.

By the way, Jance’s Ali Reynolds series is set in Sedona.

2. Lena Jones series by Betty Webb

Arizona author Betty Webb sprinkles her Lena Jones mysteries with local Phoenix lore, landmarks, and even cameo appearances by local authors.

The first in the series is Desert Noir.


3. David Mapstone series by Jon Talton

Jon Talton is also an Arizona native who moved to Seattle. His main character, David Mapstone, is a history buff who explores the shady side of Phoenix’s past.

The first in this series is Concrete Desert.


I’ve previously reviewed Talton’s second in the series, Camelback Falls.

All three of these authors give talks at local libraries and bookstores, as well as at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Have you read any of their books?

Do you have any mystery novels set in Arizona to recommend?



grand canyon arizona

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French


(*Amazon Affiliate link)


Summary:  Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surrounded their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.


Author Tana French’s characters are well-drawn and complex. The first person narrator is Detective Rob Ryan (the one who survived the earlier event).  He reveals on the second page of Chapter 1 that he might be an unreliable narrator when he says,  “And I lie.”

His partner is Detective Cassie Maddox, a young woman who also might have some personal demons.

The two detectives have been partners for a couple of years before the story starts. Their bantering, close relationship is the best part of the book.

“Behave yourself,” I said, pulling her hood over her face.
“Help! I’m being oppressed!” she yelled through it. “Call the Equality Commission.” The stroller girl gave us a sour look.
“You’re overexcited,” I told Cassie. “Calm down or I’ll take you home with no ice cream.”



The main setting is a patch of woods near a small neighborhood in Dublin. Rather that being just a simple backdrop, the mood of the woods changes with situations throughout the story:

  • from a joyful playground,
  • to a terrifying trap,
  • to a sad final resting place,
  • to a contentious construction site.


The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises — rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teams with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye.

The Plot

I recently attended a workshop where the presenter suggested deconstructing eight key components of plot in a novel as a way to learn the craft. Let’s see how it goes.

1. The hook – The purpose of the hook is to grab and hold the reader’s interest. Because most readers decide whether or not to continue on with a book after reading the first few paragraphs to first few pages, it is important to make the beginning sentences really count.

I already discussed the beginning of the book in an earlier post, but to summarize, in the prologue the author does a good job of making the reader wonder what’s going on with the kids and want to read more to find out.

2. The set up – This is where the author introduces the characters, reveals details of their world, and presents the problem that is central to the story.

The character and setting introductions work well. Readers are drawn to Rob and Cassie. They have a cool relationship.

The story problem is multi-layered, which adds complexity. The main problem is to figure out who killed twelve-year-old Katy.  Underlying that problem is what happened to the three young children twenty years prior and is it related to Katy’s death?

3. The obstacles – For a successful story, the characters need to overcome hurtles and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes the obstacle is simply moving down the wrong path or following a red herring. There are several red herrings in this story, including mysterious strangers.

The biggest obstacle which hinders the investigation is Rob’s past experiences.  His emotions roil as memories surface.  For example, he messes up in court when he is supposed to give evidence for another case.

4. The side story – This is a subplot that is not directly involved in solving the problem, but that adds a sense of realism and depth.

The side story is easy to spot in this novel. There is also a side character, another detective named Sam O’Neill. His part of the investigation is to figure out whether Katy’s death was politically motivated due to conflict over a proposed road construction project. Personally, I found the side story to be rather flat, although perhaps that’s what the author intended.

5. This Changes Everything! – Toward the middle of most novels there’s a time when the rug is pulled out from under the hero. Something occurs or is discovered that defies the reader’s expectations and wakes him or her up.

This component wasn’t as clear (or handled in such a straightforward way). Right about the middle (roughly page 210 in this 429 page book), Rob remembers witnessing a rape in the woods as a child. It doesn’t change things drastically, but he and Cassie pursue it.

The biggest shake up comes near the end/climax when Rob’s boss finds out Rob was involved in the earlier case. That really does change everything.

6. The escalation – The section that is push to the climax of the story. Often the pacing becomes more intense, and the ratio of dialogue to narration shifts to more dialogue.

The pace does pick up as the detectives hone in on the killer.

7. The climax– When everything comes together and the reader finds out who did it.

This is where In the Woods really departs from the norm. Instead of a satisfying resolution, suddenly Rob’s life is turned on its head. His boss finds out about his past, he sleeps with Cassie and then withdraws from her which destroys their partnership, and the person who instigates the murder turns the tables on them and gets way with everything. Instead of everything coming together, everything falls apart.

8. A satisfying ending – Again, the novel doesn’t follow the mystery novel blueprint. It almost seemed like two endings.

In the “first ending”, we do learn who kills Katy, which is the solution to the primary problem. The fact that the instigator escapes is not satisfying, but it works.

On the other hand, almost nothing is revealed about the earlier disappearances. If anything, things are murkier. In this tacked on “second ending” Rob wanders around, his life in shambles.

If this novel was a stand alone, the first ending would have been sufficient. As part of a series, however, the less satisfying “second ending” makes sense. The author is probably setting things up for the next novel. It is possible that solution to the older mystery isn’t revealed until much later in the series, if at all.


What did you think of the plot deconstruction? Did it enlighten, or was hard to follow?

I learned a few things about my expectations as a reader and how I would approach things as a writer.


For the most part, I enjoyed this novel, but I did have one issue with the story line (besides the unsatisfactory ending). In contrast to Rob who is up front that he lies, Cassie does not lie unless forced to do so by her job. This character trait made it less believable that she would go along with Rob when he hides his involvement in the earlier crime from his boss. Even with her close relationship with Rob, it didn’t ring true that she would allow him to blatantly jeopardize both the case and their careers. Of course, as the main character Rob needed to be involved in the mystery for it to work, but it would have been more realistic — and have added another layer of conflict — if Cassie had revealed Rob’s past connection to her boss right away and Rob had had to fight to be included at every step of the investigation.

According to Book Riot, reading In the Woods isn’t the best way to start the series. largely because of the problems I mentioned with the ending. Jessica Woodbury suggests starting with the fourth book in the series, Broken Harbor, because of how the characters reoccur. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Number 60. In the Woods by Tana French

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French


(*Amazon Affiliate link)


Summary: Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surround their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

Have you read In The Woods by Tana French? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about In The Woods by Tana French? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018

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