Monday, June 23, 2008

"In the Woods"

Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her 2008 Edgar Award-winning novel, In the Woods, and reported the following:
I like this test a lot. At first I thought, ‘Dammit, that’s not a good page, I should’ve had the foresight to make sure that page 69 had good bits’ – but actually, now that I come to look at it, almost all the important elements of the book are in there.

In the Woods is somewhere between a psychological mystery and a police procedural, maybe a little of both. Twenty years ago, three children ran into a wood. Only one came out, and he had no memory of what had happened to the other two. Now Rob Ryan, the child who came back, is a detective on Dublin’s Murder squad, and the murder of another child draws him back to that wood and to his past.

One of the two most valuable things in Rob Ryan’s life is his job; the other is his deep, intense, platonic friendship with his partner, Cassie Maddox. Both of those show up on page 69. Rob and Cassie are giving their superintendent a first run-down on the new murder case, so the job is in there:

“Make it fast,” he said. “I’ve to be somewhere at eight.” His wife had left him the year before; since then the grapevine had picked up a series of awkward attempts at relationships, including one spectacularly unsuccessful blind date where the woman turned out to be an ex-hooker he had arrested regularly in his Vice days.

“Katharine Devlin, aged twelve,” I said.

“The ID’s definite, so?”

“Ninety-nine percent,” I said. “We’ll have one of the parents view the body when the morgue’s patched her up, but Katy Devlin was an identical twin, and the surviving twin looks exactly like our victim.”

“Leads, suspects?” he snapped. He had a sort of nice tie on, ready for his date, and he was wearing too much cologne; I couldn’t place it, but it smelled expensive. “I’m going to have to give a press conference tomorrow. Tell me you’ve got something.”

And so’s the friendship:

“First, there’s the family,” said Cassie. “You know the stats, sir: most murdered kids are killed by their parents.”

“And there’s something odd about that family, sir,” I said. This was my line; we had to get the point across, in case we ever needed a little leeway in investigating the Devlins, but if Cassie had said it O’Kelly would have gone off into a long snide boring routine about women’s intuition. We were good at O’Kelly by this time. Our counterpoint has been polished to the seamlessness of a Beach Boys harmony—we can sense exactly when to swap the roles of front man and backup, good cop and bad cop, when my cool detachment needs to strike a balancing note of gravitas against Cassie’s bright ease—and it is for use even against our own. “I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something up in that house.”

The only crucial element that doesn’t show up on this page is the old mystery of the two missing children, and how deeply it’s affected Ryan. He’s lived most of his life with the knowledge that the solution to this mystery is locked somewhere inside his mind, but he can’t grab hold of it. That knowledge – the knowledge that his mind isn’t a safe place, it’s treacherous and tricky and dangerous – has defined who he is; it’s left dark cracks straight across him, left him too damaged to be honest with himself, with the other characters, or with his readers. As he digs deeper into the modern murder case, old memories start to surface, and his mind begins to disintegrate under the pressure. By the end of the book, both of those crucial things that show up on page 69 – his job and his best friendship – are in danger.

This Page 69 thing is catching. I’m going to start doing it in bookshops.
Read a brief excerpt from In the Woods, and learn more about the novel and author at Tana French's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue