Study Guide

Adam Robert "Rob" Ryan in In The Woods

By Tana French

Adam Robert "Rob" Ryan

Liar Liar

Rob tells us right off the bat that he's a liar, but he doesn't share this fact as though he's proud of it, like a politician might secretly be. Instead, it's almost like he's ashamed of it. Which makes sense since instead of lying to, say, earn himself big time campaign contributions or lure voters to the booths, lying for Rob is part of his defense mechanism to keep people at bay so they don't learn his true identity. Instead of lying to win, then, Rob basically lies to lose human connections.

In 1984, Rob's two best friends went missing in the woods around Knocknaree. They were never found, but the young Adam Ryan was, complete with broken fingernails, bloodstained socks, and a t-shirt with "four parallel tears" (1.12). He doesn't want to be known as the boy who lived, like an Irish Harry Potter, so he starts going by his middle name and even perfects the art of speaking with a "BBC accent" (1.24). Adam Ryan becomes Rob Ryan, not the boy who lived, but the man who desperately tries to avoid his past.

You know that whole lying-to-avoid-people schtick? Well, supposedly Rob has a friend named Charlie. Emphasis on the supposedly, though, since we never see the guy, which makes us wonder if Charlie is as real as Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend.

Rob says that he "did not become a detective on some quixotic quest to solve [his] own childhood mystery" (1.19). But he also says he's a liar, so should we believe him? Should we believe anything he says for that matter? Maybe he's telling the truth, but by his own admission, maybe he isn't. And since he's our narrator, though we don't ever feel like he's particularly slick (he gives us a heads up he's a liar, for instance), we're definitely in kind of unreliable territory.

Hate the Player and the Game

Part of knowing who you are is knowing what you like. And Rob definitely doesn't know what he likes.

He says that he has "always liked girlie girls" (1.25)—though he's "never liked adorable, helpless men" (3.63). And this preference is evident when he says he fell in love with Cassie when she is broken down in the rain, but then falls out of love with her when she turns out to be intelligent and have an attitude. Rob, it seems, only likes women he can take advantage of. But instead of understanding this about himself, he understands it as preferring "girlie girls." In our book, needing a lift and liking pink have nothing to do with each other.

Rob also has double standards when it comes to women he doesn't like. For example, he says that Cassie, "like me, needs a certain amount of solitude" (11.3). Go team, right? But later in the same chapter, Rob criticizes his roommate Heather for her "Me Time" (11.39). He likes Cassie, so what she does is cool—but Heather irks him, so he refuses to recognize their similarities. And importantly, Rob doesn't see this pattern in his own behavior. For a guy charged with solving a murder, he sure doesn't connect the dots when it comes to his own life.

Okay, so Rob's kind of a tool. No big deal, right? Wrong. He ends up sleeping with Cassie after swearing that they maintain a platonic friendship. Again, no big deal… Except for the fact that Rob makes it a big deal.

Since Rob can only sleep with women he has no respect for—he's only attracted to women he views as down for the count—he loses respect for Cassie when she sleeps with him. So instead of treating her like his partner afterward, he instead goes out of his way to blow her off. He tries to excuse his awful behavior saying he "was not in anything resembling a normal frame of mind. This may not be an excuse, but it is a fact" (17.99). But, you know, this is almost exactly what Jonathan Devlin says to "excuse" his involvement in Sandra's gang rape. So we're unimpressed.

Not So Fast, Rob Ryan

Okay, so Rob's personal life is a hot mess. We'd be totally down to let him off the hook for this one on account of the fact that something super terrible obviously happened in the woods when he was a kid. The only trouble is that he lets it affect his professional life. Big time.

Rob a terrible cop, letting his jealousy, insecurity, and desperation affect the investigation. Remember what we said about his lust for helpless women? He even wants to "lean forward and cup [his] hand around the back of [Rosalind's] head and kiss her" (17.88). Rosalind: the sister of the murder victim. Who says she's eighteen and is really seventeen. And who is only pretending to be adorable and helpless to throw Rob off to the fact that she masterminded the crime.

Rob doesn't even take the blame for screwing up everything (wasting time blaming Mark, not verifying Rosalind's age, being rude and weird to Cassie). Instead, he goes so far as to say, "I had risked my career and I was losing my partner; because of [Damien]" (21.1). No, Rob, you're losing your partner because of you—you screwed this up all by yourself. And importantly, while Katy Devlin was murdered by Damien, all Rob can think about is his own life. Good thing he's on the case… not.

At first, Rob's survivor's guilt seems minor. He thinks his parents were afraid of him as a child, saying, "I had—simply by surviving—become a freak of nature" (7.129). And to be fair, his parents have a version of this, too. They move away because they got their son back, and the other parents lost their children forever. No one's saying surviving whatever happened in the woods is easy.

But things get out of control when Rob says, "I wonder whether, whoever or whatever took Peter and Jamie away, it decided I wasn't good enough" (18.132). Yes, Rob, you're just so pathetic that you can't even be murdered. Once again, way to take someone else's death—his friends' no less—and turn it into something all about him.

In short, Rob may not seem terrible when compared to Rosalind, but when he stands on his own, he doesn't hold up to scrutiny very well.