This is a colossal book, in the sense that one will want to savour the reading experience while trying to grapple with the many tangents and subplots that the author has dangling before the reader. This is a very meaty book exploring multiple ideas and it has left me a bit hollow in a good way when I finally finish the book.
The characters are the crowning jewels of the book. French is a master at crafting all her characters, not just Rob, the narrator. She is like an artist, sculpting the characters bit by bit until they are fully three dimensional individuals. By the end of the book, I completely understand how Rob thinks and what makes him tick, but I also walk away with a very firm understanding of Cassie, Sam, and the various cast members that appear the book. All these characters have left their impression on me. French definitely knows how to build up characters slowly through their actions and dialogue, and I almost wish that everyone existed in real life. Nobody is utterly likeable or utterly unlikeable (perhaps with the exception of the antagonist) and everyone has their shades of grey, particularly Rob. His flaws are magnified and blown up for the entire world to see by the end of the book.
The other thing that I appreciate is that French also painstakingly develops the relationships between all the characters. Like many other readers, I love the Ryan-Maddox chemistry but I also love how messy the relationship is, and how it is not always redeemable. It is very refreshing to read that kind of camaraderie between a male and female, where they can easily sass each other and snarkily put each other back into their proper place without all the random tensions of insta-love. There is also trust, love, and intensity between them that makes me smile whenever they are in scenes together and watching their relationship evolve as the case takes a toil on all of them is very powerful.
There are two main parts of the plot: the murder of Katy Devlin as well as two missing children from twenty years before. Both crimes take place in the same woods in Knocknaree. More importantly, Rob is the third child from that missing children case; the one that survives but cannot remember anything about the incident and what happen to his best friends. Katy Devlin’s case is a huge nudge for Rob to start directing some of his attention to the almost completely buried memories at the back of his mind, and as they slowly resurface in distorted fragments he slowly becomes more fixated with them. I found the resurfacing memories to be both engrossing and haunting, because as Rob slowly pieces together what can have possibly occurred to him and his friends over twenty years ago I also love the idea that all these memories can be false. The memories are more like tricks that Rob’s mind likes to play on him, and the whole reality vs memory vs perception is very interesting to me as a reader.
And that ending—most people would be upset by that ending. I will not spoil it since it will be really obvious for anyone who finishes thebook, but the more I think about it I actually really love the ending. It is a perfect conclusion for such a twisted journey, and it is due to all the fragments that make it interesting because there is always an element of doubt that haunt the characters in the best way possible. It really does add to the character development and completes the downfall of someone who does not have everything under control for a very long time already. As for the impact on everyone’s lives, I really like how the story acknowledges that at the end of a book it does not automatically (or if ever) equate to “The End”. Life marches on and everyone walks away affected, big or small, unknown or known. While it is not explicitly said one could almost feel the rippling effect that it has on every character that appear throughout the book. It is an ending that it is very realistic, and I always have to remind myself that the characters are not real because it feels exactly like something that can happen to anyone that I know aside from the murders.
As a mystery though, it is not the most suspenseful or twisted mystery in the world. A murder has been committed, the detectives are gathering clues to eliminate the suspects and hopefully after all the interviews, something finally tips them off and eventually the detectives get a break and the mystery is solved. While there are some twists there is also no clever red herring or ‘Aha!’ moment that makes one want to re-read the entire book because suddenly there is an entire different meaning in the words. I did enjoy the pace of the mystery and the book overall, although some people may find it rather pedestrian as the detectives slowly but surely plod towards the murderer. I think it is another accurate reflection of how real investigations operate; nothing is pieced together in a week or two and suddenly the murderer is caught and society is happy again.
Finally, another testament of how great this book is that I keep thinking that it deserves to be brought to life either via a mini-series or a movie. French has already laid out the story and the characters so brilliantly that it is impossible for them not to materialize, and with a TV series I can finally visualize the entire story and have it become real.
This has been a wonderful read and I certainly look forward to the rest of the series by the author, even if she does not focus on the same characters.