Study Guide

In The Woods Summary

By Tana French

In The Woods Summary

In 1984, in Knocknaree, a charming little town near Dublin, Ireland, three kids romp and play in the woods. Green trees. Singing birds. Scampering wildlife. Oh—and probably a murderer, since two of these three kids go missing and are never found. The third escapes whatever fate befell the others, emerging from the woods with bloody sneakers and a torn t-shirt.

Two decades later, another girl is found dead in the woods. She is beaten with a rock and left on a sacrificial stone. And—what a coincidence—the lead detective on the case, Rob Ryan, is the boy who escaped the woods twenty years ago. He's going by his middle name now to distance himself from the Adam Ryan of the past. (Like Superman thinking no one will recognize him if he wears glasses.)

With his partner, Cassie Maddox (no, they're not sleeping together—Rob pinky swears he's not interested in her that way), Rob investigates the murder of Katy Devlin. Who would want to kill this twelve-year-old girl with a passion for dance?

Was it her father, Jonathan, who leads the Move the Motorway campaign, which is trying to, well, move a motorway that is going to demolish the Knocknaree woods? Was it Mark, the archeologist who is a little too attached to the woods, and whom Rob thinks isn't above human sacrifice? Was it a mysterious man in a tracksuit who was allegedly seen at the site by Damien, another archeologist, and Jessica, Katy's twin sister? Was it one of the landowners who stands to profit greatly from the motorway, who hired an assassin to threaten the Devlin family?

Was it Maggie Simpson?

There's also the possibility that the present-day case relates to the 1984 disappearance of Rob's best friends, Peter and Jamie. Rob tries to remember what happened over twenty years ago, and his repressed memories put him on the trail of a gang rape he witnessed in the woods. Jonathan Devlin and his friends raped Sandra Scully. Unfortunately, due to the statute of limitations, Rob and Cassie cannot prosecute this crime… But could Sandra have killed Katy as revenge?

Rob, Cassie, and their new teammate, Sam O'Neill, pull all-nighters going over all the details of this complicated case. And then, one night, Rob and Cassie sleep together. Remember how he said they were totally platonic? He lies. He lies a lot.

Rob basically acts like Angel after sleeping with Buffy, except for the whole murder spree and trying to raise an ancient demon part. He treats Cassie terribly and starts avoiding her, which isn't very good teamwork in a murder investigation.

Finally, a missing trowel leads them to Damien Donnelly, the nerdy archeologist, and he confesses to murdering Katy. But why did he do it? It turns out he was manipulated into it by Katy's psychopathic older sister Rosalind. This girl is ice cold. Cassie launches a plan to catch Rosalind, wiring herself and going to talk to the girl and record her confessions.

Cassie succeeds, but it turns out that Rosalind's testimony is inadmissible. The girl is only seventeen, not eighteen. Rob isn't the only one who lies. Rosalind lied about her age to him… and he believed her.

Since Rob pretty much screwed up everything—his career, his friendship—he loses it all. He gets demoted, and Cassie ends up transferring, getting engaged to Sam, and never speaking to Rob again. Rosalind basically gets off scot-free while Damien gets life in prison. And Rob is left with only himself and his memories. He takes one last trip to the woods before it's bulldozed (the Move the Motorway campaign proving unsuccessful in moving said motorway) and tries to put his past behind him.