So, unlike most people, I actually read French's latest novel, Faithful Place, before I read the books published prior to it's release. However, I found that it didn't really matter. I think that if you intend to complete all three novels, definitely read In the Woods before The Likeness. In reverse order, I thought it was insightful, given that Frank's character in Faithful Place, an undercover detective, especially detests the Murder Squad, where Rob (Adam), our narrator for In the Woods, is employed. Remember: there are always two sides to the story.
The novel opens with a chilling recount of Adam Ryan's past: a boy found in the woods, alone, with blood filled sneakers, while two of his dearest friends remain lost. The reader is then brought back to present day; Adam is Rob, and a member of the Dublin Murder Squad. Rob and his partner, Cassie, take the case of a missing 12 year old girl in the same wood. Again, French forces the audience to examine the painful associations of character when faced with memories they'd much rather forget.
Unlike Frank, Rob's been educated in England wtih an accent that proves it, is sharply dressed and a has uncanny sense of observation (or so he believes). Rob's character is one you love to hate. He's obnoxious, a stereotypical man and full of ego. He even asserts at one point in the novel that the reader is as blind to the events that have unfolded as he is. I'm thinking, "Ok, I'm not an idiot."
French's writing is lyrical, and I believe it's one of the reasons I find her novels so alluring. I find that I can't put them down, even if, in the end, I'm a little disappointed. The novel is a bit character driven, and you're left wanting more, but the anticipation of solving the crime is too heavy to walk away. Furthermore, I find that her stories are quite realistic, even if Adam's disappearance in the woods is a little unbelievable. Additionally, the dialogue between Rob and Cassie is fun and warm, that is, up until Rob becomes a douchebag and screws the whole thing up. Side note: The inclusion of Cassie's romantic relationship in the end is, outright, laughable.
I found that Faithful Place had a bit more substance for me, which I really liked. French's discussion of the psychology of family life and the demons that haunt the soul after a rough childhood were much more interesting than the semi-ridiculous story our narrator, Rob, conveys in this title. In the Woods is definitely a great first novel, and I would strongly recommend reading the series.