In that tiny, kind of scary house, by the woods by the woods by the woods by the woods….
Woods have been a staple of crime and horror stories for a LONG time now. And the setup for this novel is so cliché, I almost can’t bear to type it. But here goes. Dublin, 1984, summer. Three young kids go playing in the woods one day. Two are never seen again, the third is found blood soaked and clinging to a tree, with no memory of any events leading up to how he got there. Twenty years later, name changed to remove the stigma of being That Boy, Rob Ryan is working on Dublin’s murder squad. His equilibrium is seriously sent off-kilter when a twelve year old girl turns up dead in the middle of an archaeological dig in those same woods, and the past begins to threaten its way into Rob’s present.
See? Anyone with an allergy to cliché just went into anaphylaxis, didn’t they? I almost did, and it’s one reason I have taken so long to get round to reading this book. I had a horrible feeling it would disappoint me. It didn’t. The plot is far, FAR more complex than its precis would have you believe and French’s depth of characterisation is seemingly endless. By the time I finished, not only did I feel I knew Rob (who’s real name is Adam), but I didn’t want to leave the world and the characters French had created.
The body count doesn’t increase beyond the first find and the book stretches to almost 700 pages, so you’d also be forgiven for thinking this would be a bit slow. The segues into Adam/Rob’s past and the mirroring of the present, along with fleshing out the fascinating characters who make up the rest of the Murder Squad (not least Cassie Maddox, who, thank God, is at the heart of book 2, The Likeness), ensure that the neither the pace nor the tension ever let up.
There is one minor (and spoiler-tastic, so if you haven’t yet read this book and you plan to, STOP READING THIS REVIEW NOW) issue that I had with the book, one that was almost enough to knock it from its 5 star rating. But only almost. While the present day crime is solved (and what a chilling resolution it is), the mystery of Adam/Rob’s past is never resolved. I had fun throughout forming my own version of his events, and while for many that will be enough, but as anyone who slogged through the whole of The Little Friend will understand, sometimes, confirmation is a good thing.