Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What we're reading: The wonderful (and verbose) Tana French

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6), by Tana French

When a pretty young woman winds up dead in her living room, detectives Conway and Moran from the Dublin Murder Squad catch the case, right at the end of their graveyard shift. Being on the Murder Squad hasn't panned out as well as Antoinette Conway had hoped; with the exception of her baby-faced newbie partner, Stephen Moran, with whom she is tentatively beginning to bond, the rest of the squad has been distinctly cold to her--except for the ones who have been slyly abusive. Their harassment is beginning to get to Conway, and it doesn't help that there's no pay-off when it comes to good cases--she and Moran always pull the predictable "domestics" with little challenge involved.

This one is no exception--the new boyfriend looks like the more-than-obvious choice as the murderer...although the victim's best friend seems to be hinting that she was in danger from another quarter. What's really puzzling, though, is why their boss and the more experienced detective he has assigned to oversee their work are rushing them into booking the guy. Conway has this eerie feeling that she's met the victim before, but can't quite dredge up the memory. When she does, the case shifts into something more sinister and complex than a simple dispute gone wrong between lovers, and Conway and Moran realize that to solve it will put them in more hot water than ever...maybe even out of a job.

You could call Tana French's books a series, since they all take place in the same approximate location with the same group of people, but although your experience will be deepened by reading them in order, it's not strictly necessary. With each book, a different person takes the lead as protagonist, and although each person has also appeared as a minor character (or maybe only as a passing mention) in the others, the level of continuity is much lower than in a series in which you are following one lead detective. You instead get to see people from both the inside (when they are the main character) and from the outside (when you are receiving others' impressions of them), which adds a layer of interest to the whole group of novels. For instance, in book #3 (Faithful Place), Detective Frank Mackey's entire life ends up on public display, while in book #5 (The Secret Place), he is a minor, though important, character.

With every novel, I am more in awe of Tana French. It's not just one thing, it's the whole package: It's that her books are smart and literary on a par with such writers as Donna Tartt (and, admittedly, almost as long--if you aren't a fan of minute detail, you may not love these like I do); but their psychological intensity is alleviated by profane humor and wit, and the mystery itself is always intriguingly complex and "wallow-able." It's that her characters are so spot-on and so fully realized that you would recognize them instantly if you ran into them in your corner café (and invite them for a cuppa or a pint, if you weren't too intimidated by them), and her scene-setting and description puts you right in the moment, in the room, in the town, in the weather and on the cobblestones of the damp streets of Dublin. Every time I read one, I can't put it down, but I also purposely delay finishing by an afternoon or a day by distracting myself with other things, because I know when I'm done I'll have a while to wait before I have another pleasure this good. Thank you, Tana French, for not taking 10 years to write a book like Donna Tartt does!

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