One of my voracious reader friends introduced me to Tana French and her Dublin Murder Squad series, of which In the Woods is the first entry.
Structurally, In the Woods is a classic mystery: something horrible has happened, and the detectives are called; evidence is collected; witnesses are interviewed; leads are developed and followed; more is learned.
Along the way, we explore issues such as gender discrimination in the workplace and the ongoing effects of the great recession of 2008.
What distinguishes In the Woods is not these basic elements, but more the style and depth with which they are elaborated and pursued.
But did I mention style? What really makes In the Woods a delight is the ferocious lyricism that French brings to her writing.
For instance, here are three children, playing follow-the-leader in the woods:
These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the microlandscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they could find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.
They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails.
How marvelous is this, at every level!
Structurally, it's almost poetry, with a natural sing-song cadence and a subtly-reinforced pattern induced by the simple rhythms ("they know...", "they rule...", "they scramble...", "they stream...").
Stylistically, each little turn of phrase is so graceful and just right ("their own grazed knees", "wild and lordly as young animals", "calls and shoelaces").
They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear.
Anyway, that's just page 2. French is just as polished and capable on page 302, and, like any good mystery, once you start, you won't want to stop, even as you know (or think you know) what lies ahead.
From what I hear, French's subsequent books are wonderful as well; I shall certainly read more.