Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is a delight, but has sometimes only vague connections to the eponymous Murder Squad. In The Woods, the first novel, centred on it; but the follow-up The Likeness, centred on Cassie Madox from the first book who is now in Domestic Violence rather than murder and being supervised by Frank Mackey from Undercover. Mackey returns as the narrator in this, the third novel, but his role is non-professional, personal and familial.
Having read these a little out of sequence, I know that French returns more fully to the Murder Squad detectives ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy and Stephen Moran in Broken Harbour and The Secret Place respectively. Both these detectives have cameos in Faithful Place and it felt a little like the falling into place of a jigsaw puzzle as I was reading this one!
This particular case is a cold one: a suitcase belonging to a girl who went missing twenty previously is uncovered and handed over to Frank Mackey’s estranged family, who contacted him about it. The suitcase had belonged to Rose Daly, Frank’s girlfriend, who had been planning on eloping with Frank on the night she disappeared. Her body is discovered in short time and the usual investigative process begins, a process which – officially – Frank has no part in.
Readers of this blog will be aware that Tana French is one of my favourite crime writers and much of what I love about her is here in this novel. The powerful writing about bonds between people – albeit here the bonds between Frank and his family are difficult and toxic – and some gorgeous sensual writing. Take this for example:
Dublin was brown and gray and beige all over, back then, and Rosie was a dozen bright colours: an explosion of copper curls right down to her waist, eyes like chips of green glass held up to the light, red mouth and white skin and gold freckles.
But readers of my Weekly Round-ups will also be aware that this one was, in my opinion, a misstep for a variety of reasons.
Frank Mackey as our first person narrator. He had been a looming and intimidating presence throughout many of these novels; in this one, his presence is weaker. I can see the logic of looking behind the mask of the towering figure, exploring the man behind the persona, but this did not feel that it fitted somehow. He was also an outsider in Faithful Place and within his own family something of a loner at work. His character did not seem to work for French whose writing is at its best as she explores those strong intimate relationships.
The pace of the novel seemed less taut than other books: whilst it takes place over a week or so, it felt slow. Part of this was some jarring comment about the Irish economy and media cults of personality.
I want Holly to be aware that there is a difference between the truth and meaningless gibberish bullshit. She’s completely surrounded, from every angle, by people telling her that reality is one hundred percent subjective: if you really believe you’re a star then you deserve a record contract whether or not you can sing for shit, and if you really believe in weapons of mass destruction then it doesn’t actually matter whether they exist or not, and fame is the be-all and end-all because you don’t exist unless enough people are paying attention to you. I want my daughter to learn that not everything in this world is determined by how often she hears it or how much she wants it to be true or how many other people are looking…
This is not even a piece of internal monologue from our narrator, it’s dialogue and it sounds very unnatural to my ear.
The other feature which I missed here was the slightly Gothic and supernatural tones. From the beast that smelled of wet goat in In The Woods to the animal haunting the attic in Broken Harbour to Holly Mackey’s belief in her own supernatural gifts in The Secret Place, the otherworldly has haunted the series and is absent here, save for a few personifications of the Place.
Maybe that came down to the choice of Frank Mackey as narrator again. His working class upbringing and pragmatic attitude wouldn’t have had time for that sort of thought process.
So, overall, it was an okay read. A decent book. But it didn’t sparkle as her other books have for me.
Plot / Pace: 🌟🌟🌟
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Date: 3rd March 2011