This is my second Tana French novel, and it was her debut with the Dublin Murder Squad series. And I do enjoy her writing style.
We have here, ostensibly, a crime novel. A twelve year old girl, Katy Devlin, is discovered dead on the altar stone at an archeological dig. Detective Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are dispatched to investigate. The usual trickle of evidence (interviews, autopsy, forensics) leads to the perpetrator. There is a further complication: the site where Katy Devlin is discovered is the same place that, twenty years earlier, Ryan and his two best friends disappeared. Only Ryan was recovered, with blood on his shoes and no memory of what had happened to him.
The novel dips into both cases and they butt against each other. At times, the two cases seem utterly unconnected, save by coincidence; at other times, there’s the suspicion that there may be a direct causal connection.
What sets French apart from other police procedurals for me, having read a sum total of two of her books – which may not make it a reliable observation – is the intensity of the relationships she creates. Ryan and Maddox’ relationship has a similar intensity to those of the girls at the boarding school in The Secret Place. Somewhere between an incredibly intense brother-sister relationship and lovers. Which, when put like that, sounds rather uncomfortable if not unhealthy! They work together day-in day-out, share food on most nights, a bedroom on occasion, secrets, intimacies and confidences. Each shares an utter confidence in the other and would probably work to exclude everyone else. At times, they came across as beautifully tender together; sometimes we shared the good humour of their bickering. Often, they came across as very immature – acting closer to 13 than 30 but that may reflect more on my stuffiness than anything else – and, to be honest, annoying and not always wholly convincing. The relationship which was growing between Detectives Conway and Moran in The Secret Place was more credible.
I also struggled to find Ryan a credible police officer: he was clearly incompetent. He should never have tried to – nor in the age of both physical and digital fingerprints, been able to – disguise his background from the police. A victim, witness, or possibly a suspect, in one case, should not be investigating a second case where his main suspect was also suspected in his own abduction. As a narrator though, I quite enjoyed his lack of reliability.
Another key marker of French’s work seems to be the supernatural, the wildness lurking behind our tame, rational and safe world. Again, for me I love that. Again, it was very apparent in The Secret Place and much less so here (possibly a result of stronger editorial control over a debut novel) but there are occasional hints of something ancient and other stalking the woods.
Personally, I’d have liked a little more of that side of the story.
With regard to the resolution, I found the identity and motive of the killer (or killers to avoid spoilers) just a little convenient. And the final outcome … well I’ll leave it up to you to read and decide whether justice was served and whether that appealed. For me, the clear-cut re-assertion of order and justice at the conclusion of typical crime novels is a little too neat at times. So I quite enjoyed the conclusion.