In The Woods
by Tana French


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!
Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


1. The main character, Adam Robert Ryan aka Det. Ryan, admits two things: “I crave truth. And I lie.” (pg. 6) In what ways does he prove both?

2. “You can’t stop progress” is an ages-old adage, discuss the ways progress couldn’t be stopped in this novel.

3. How did family issues affect the main characters both in the present and past? In particular, how did Jamie's possibility of being sent to boarding school in Dublin become the pivotal situation to set off the chain of reactions? And how did Katharine’s current possibility of going away to the Royal Ballet School do the same for her murderer?

4. Discuss Rosalind Devlin’s manipulation of Damion after she’d failed at poisoning her sister for several months and how was she able to get away what she did with only a plea bargain of a three year suspended sentence?

5. “The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. ( pg. 5) Could this quote apply as much to Katharine with Rosalind as to Cassie with Ryan?

6. Discuss“…almost without exception, when a family cuts itself off from the rest of the world it’s because something is badly wrong.” (pg. 208)

7. Do you believe (like half of our discussion group members) that Det. Ryan was the murderer of Jaime aka Germaine and Elinor, his childhood friends? And that he, too, was a psychopath? Discuss the many clues that support that he was and wasn't.

From Penguin via Discussion Questions

1. What do the woods represent symbolically in Tana French's novel? Does their significance change as the story progresses?

2. The loss or absence of stable families is a recurring motif in In the Woods. How do French's characters, particularly Ryan, attempt to compensate for this absence?

3. Does the Irish setting of In the Woods contribute significantly to the telling of the story, or do you find French's novel to be about humanity on a more universal level?

4. How does Ryan's experience In the Woods at the age of twelve affect his ability to function as a detective? Is it always a hindrance to him, or are there ways in which it improves and deepens his insights?

5. Cassie Maddox, Ryan's partner, is perhaps the most consistently appealing character in the novel. What are her most attractive qualities? What are the weaker points of her personality? Does Ryan ever fully appreciate her?

6. After sleeping together, Ryan and Cassie cease to be friends. Why do you think the experience of physical intimacy is so damaging to their relationship? Are there other reasons why their friendship falls apart?

7. Ryan states that he both craves truth and tells lies. How reliable to you find him as a narrator? In what ways does the theme of truth and misrepresentation lie at the heart of In the Woods?

8. Imagine that you are Ryan's therapist. With what aspects of his personality would you most want to help him come to terms? Do you think there would be any way to lead him out of “the woods?”

9. How convincing is French's explanation of the motivating forces that lead to Katy's murder—forces that come close to a definition of pure evil? Are such events and motivations ever truly explicable?

10. The plan to build the new motorway, trampling as it does on a past that some regard as sacred, is an outrage to the archaeologists who are trying to preserve an ancient legacy. How does this conflict fit thematically with Ryan's own contradictory desires to unearth and to pave over his past?

11. Do you have your own theories about the mysteries that remain unsolved at the end of In the Woods? What are they?

12. What were your thoughts and emotions upon finishing In the Woods? If this book affected you differently from other mysteries you have read, why do you think this was true?

(Questions issued by the publisher.)

WMBC Questions compiled by: Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Oct. 2020