The Trespasser by Tana French

For me, one of the strengths of Tana French’s crime novels are the fact that she has decided against having a serialised protagonist. Each novel brings a different perspective and while characters such as Frank Mackay might pop up in several of her books, the viewpoint is always fresh.


In The Trespasser, her sixth novel centred around the fictitious Dublin Murder Squad, the viewpoint is that of Antoinette Conway, the mixed-race, volatile detective who is fighting not just crime, but harassment from within her own department.

Partnered with the affable Stephen Moran – who took centre stage in The Secret Place – Conway feels herself to be the squad outcast and is considering giving up police work for a lucrative security job. The opening premise sounds as disappointing to the reader as it seems to Conway and Moran as they are handed what at first glance seems to be a domestic gone wrong – a quick solve that won’t help their reputation within the force.

The detectives are sent to a flat where Aislinn Murray – a young receptionist has been found dead, her head smashed against a stone fireplace. The table setting for a romantic dinner for two, found burnt in the oven suggests a lover’s tiff and Aislinn’s current boyfriend, shy book-shop owner Rory Fallon becomes the prime suspect. What raises Conway’s suspicion that this might not be the clean solve it originally looks like, is the keenness of her colleague, the self-obsessed smooth talker Detective Breslin, to close the case quickly. A little too quickly for Conway’s liking.

Pretty soon, Conway and Moran are floating some other theories for Aislinn’s death – gangland connections, a mysterious married boyfriend – plus the fact that Conway remembers Aislinn from a previous missing person case means that the slam-dunk lover’s tiff answer starts to look less and less logical.

tana french

Tana French

From a procedural point of view, The Trespasser is relatively straight-forward. As the book progresses, the suspects become narrowed down to one and a lack of forensic evidence mean that for much of the book, this is Conway’s theory and not much more.  As with most of French’s novels, the crime being investigated causes the detective to confront their own past and question their own instincts. This is what makes her crime novels so interesting and complex. The intricate twists are psychological rather than plot-driven – the who becomes less interesting than the why.

In Conway’s case, two issues are clouding her judgement. Firstly, her paranoia over her colleagues in Murder Squad is forcing her to question everything. It’s a well-executed trick, as the reader, like Conway, is unsure how much of her harassment is real and how much is her paranoia.

I can’t tell if this is batshit paranoia or the bleeding obvious slapping me in the dace. Two years of watching my back, watching every step and every word, in fight mode all day every day: my instincts are fried to smoking wisps.

Even Steve, her stable partner is finding her hard to work with, pointing out that Conway is on the road to self-destruction, whether she wants it or not.

Because you’re so set in going down in flames, you’d make it happen even if the entire force loved you to bits. You’ll light your own bloody self on fire if you have to. And then you can pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you knew it all along. Congratulations.

Add to this the fact that Conway and the victim Aislinn have absent fathers, a fact driving both of them in different ways. Aislinn’s obsession with her missing father is the key to her murder, while Conway blocks out her own absent father, knowing that made-up stories will never make his loss any easier to deal with. The damage wrought by their parental abandonment makes the detective and victim more alike than they could imagine. Both are damaged and volatile in their own personal ways, both creating a new persona to make up for what they have lost.

Made up stories are at the heart of The Trespasser, stories we tell ourselves, stories we create for ourselves and the stories that can help solve a crime. Aislinn recreates herself as a new character in a new life and uses the imagery of fairy tales to cope with her problems.

To her, it was like finding out that magic was real and she had it, she could turn pumpkins into carriages, she could turn princes into frogs and back again.

French cleverly equates storytelling with police work, for what is solving a crime, but finding the story that fits?

Dozens and dozens of people, they just keep coming, and every single one of their heads is crammed with stories they believe and stories they want to believe and stories someone else has made them believe

Conway and Moran need to make their story fit, not through clues but through talking, listening and asking the right questions. The Trespasser fizzes with some incredibly well written interrogation scenes – tense, sharp and suspenseful, which only serve to illuminate the idea that detective work is its own form of storytelling.

Conway is a wonderful creation, loud, brash and defensive, she is volatile and fearless, while at the same time vulnerable and questioning. If she were your friend, you wouldn’t know whether to shake her or hug her. It will be interesting to see if French continues to rotate her central character for the next book, or if the temptation to stay a little longer in Conway’s company is too much to resist. I for one, hope she allows Conway another outing.

I received a copy of The Trespasser from the publisher through Netgalley.



Bookish and Not So Bookish Thoughts

Life continues apace in the world of 746 Books, sometimes bookish, sometimes not so bookish.

Another week has gone by in a blur of work and family life and I’m yet again wondering where this year has gone. The Halloween costumes have been bought (we are now living with Poe Dameron from Star Wars and a pink Power Ranger) and some early Christmas presents have even been bought – I know, I know!

So here some of the things I’ve been up to lately:

  • This week we managed to watch a grown-ups film in our house and it was the fantastic, stylish and nightmarish High Rise. I’m a BIG Ballard fan so this was a no-brainer for me, but I also love the work of Ben Wheatley, who has directed Sightseers, Down Terrace and Kill List, all of which I have loved. This is a movie that looks amazing (and no, that doesn’t just refer to Tom Hiddleston) and is unlike anything I have seen in a long time, which can only be a good thing. Plus, it is the first film that made me think that maybe, just maybe Sienna Miller can act.
  • Still on a sci-fi kick, we’ve also started watching Westworld, HBOs big budget, high profile version of the 1973 classic movie. I wasn’t won over by the pilot mainly due to the depiction of women (victims or whores) but subsequent episodes have opened out the story – of robots in a Wild West theme park who are becoming sentient – and I’m really starting to enjoy it. Featuring Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newtown and Jeffrey Wright, it’s an oddly prescient look at artificial intelligence and our need for constant immersive entertainment.
  • Tonight I am off to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast to see Three Sisters. Adapted from Chekov by the fantastic Lucy Caldwell, it’s sent in the 1990s and should give me some nice flashbacks to the days when I wore oversized men’s cardigans and DM shoes to go out dancing to the Wonderstuff and James ….I’m showing my age here!


  • As Santa letters are currently being written in our house (my children are nothing if not organised) I’ve been scouring the Literary Gift Company for bookish gifts for friends and little treats for myself. Favourites are the Lady Macbeth Guest Soap, the Ulysses Tote Bag and the Emily Dickinson Cookie Cutter!


  • The 746 books challenge has become a family affair this week as we have all started reading Swallows and Amazons at bedtime. Yes, I have to admit I have never read Swallows and Amazons despite having a copy for more years than I care to remember. We have all loved the movie from 1974 and so far the book is great fun – even if I am skimming some of the technical sailing sections. Expect a review up soon. I might even get the kids to review it with me!
  • And finally, I need someone to talk me into/ talk me out of buying these Oxblood Chelsea books from ASOS. I have a little shoe crush on them. They are calling ‘buy me…buy me’. What do you all think?!


No 609 The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

The joy of Simon Van Booy’s beautiful novel The Illusion of Separateness comes from its structure, which features a disparate group of people and examines the unseen and often unknown bonds that exist between them.


Like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Van Booy has created a Russian Doll like tale which unfolds delicately and elegantly to examine the notion that human beings are not separate, that unseen forces are creating only an illusion of that separateness. Together with some incredibly beautiful writing, this book offers a deep pleasure in teasing out just how its disparate characters are linked.

The story is told in 15 chapters that range in time from 1939 to 2010. Featuring five main characters, the book is not told chronologically, although characters appear in different sections allowing the reader to see them from differing perspectives. The novel opens in modern day LA, where Martin, the elderly caretaker at a retirement home awaits the arrival of a new resident, the parent of a wealthy film director. Martin knows that he was put into his adoptive mother’s arms by a man she never knew, and as such he is always searching for connections and for meaning.

His drive home is a long road with many lights. Sometimes people next to him glance over. When he smiles, they look mostly away. But Martin likes to think that they carry his smile for a few blocks – that even the smallest gesture is something grand

From this starting point, the narrative ripples out, across time and across continents as each new character is introduced. A disfigured man befriends a lonely boy in Manchester in the 1980s. A schoolboy in rural France in 1960 wants to impress a girl he likes with a photo he has found in the wreckage of a plane. Two lovers spend a final day together at Coney Island in 1942, before the outbreak of war; while in the Hamptons in 2005 a young blind woman is hoping for the chance to love and be loved.


Nested at the novel’s centre is the story of John, an American bomber pilot shot down in France during the war and presumed dead.

His life was here now in the dark, in the emptiness, drifting through the air over Belgium or France. It no longer mattered where. Everything that happened to him from this moment on would be an encore.

His journey through occupied France is the beating heart of the novel and the fulcrum through which all the other stories have come to be. It is a testament to Van Booy’s subtle and intelligent approach, that the connections between the characters do not appear convoluted. There is no sense that the narrative is being bent to fit an over-riding plot. Instead, he explores how the seemingly random nature of how our lives proceed, hides instead a meaning and a connection that we might never see.

Everyone was searching, he thought, trying to unravel the knot of their lives

What also gives this slender novel depth and breadth is the quality of the writing, which often veers very close to poetry. A steaming kettle is ‘driving ghosts into the world’ while a train station timetable claps with ‘the applause of letters falling’. The writing is exquisite, with the poetry of the prose balanced by short, pared back sentences. The stories and the lives of his characters are often brutal, but Van Booy finds the beauty buried in the rubble of these painful histories.

Every day is a masterpiece, even if it crushes you

Each character is uniquely drawn, all experiencing different lives but all yearning to fill an ache in their hearts. There are moments of incredible grace, as when two soldiers share a meal of bread and toffee on the ruins of the battlefield, or an elderly man making beans on toast for a lost young boy.


Simon Van Booy

This style of novel runs the risk of becoming sentimental, but Van Booy escapes that charge by having his characters remain ignorant of their connections. The revelations are for the reader and the moment of communion between the two soldiers on that battlefield is seen in a myriad other moments to create a timeless, yet rooted story.

The Illusion of Separateness is a tender and pitch-perfect novel which is both heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure. Delicate and moving, it is an elegy to the human spirit.

Read on: Kindle

Number Read: 138

Number Remaining: 608

National Poetry Day – ‘set the darkness echoing’

As it is National Poetry Day, I thought it was an apt time to explain my recent blogging absence.

Two months ago I started a new job in the Seamus Heaney HomePlace and on Thursday night, we officially opened the Centre in his home village of Bellaghy, in the presence of the Heaney family, the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland and many notable friends and guests.



The Opening weekend was amazing and exhausting and a highlight of my working career so far. There were talks by Christopher Reid, Tom Paulin and Michael Longley and performances by Paul Brady, Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw.


The Centre has a theatre, craft shop and café and at the centre is an exhibition dedicated to exploring the life of Seamus Heaney growing up in Bellaghy and the people and experiences that inspired his work. The exhibition also features recordings of Heaney reading his own work.


For National Poetry Day, The Prince of Wales has recorded a reading of Seamus Heaney’s poem The Shipping Forecast which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as part of the nationwide celebrations. The recording will also be featured at HomePlace today and visitors can listen to the piece throughout the day.


The work that has gone in to the planning of the Opening weekend was phenomenal and I was working 12 and 14 hour shifts so blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. After work, home and family, I had little time or energy to write blog posts – even though I have been managing to read quite a bit and have a few reviews just waiting to be written.


I’m hoping that I can get back in to the routine of blogging regularly and reading all my favourite blogs again. I miss it and I miss all my blogging pals and I didn’t realise how much this little corner of the internet means to me, until I started to abandon it!

Today, in celebration of National Poetry Day, I’m going to share a Seamue Heaney poem, Personal Helicon, which was read at the opening of HomePlace and whose last line is one of my favourite lines of poetry.



For Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells

And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.

I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells

Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.


One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.

I savoured the rich crash when a bucket

Plummeted down at the end of a rope.

So deep you saw no reflection in it.


A shallow one under a dry stone ditch

Fructified like any aquarium.

When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch

A white face hovered over the bottom.


Others had echoes, gave back your own call

With a clean new music in it. And one

Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall

Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.


Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


No 610 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.

In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason, the archetypal madwoman in the attic does not speak. Everything we learn about her comes from Mr Rochester and his brother-in-law and everything confirms the evidence of her madness. Alcoholism, adultery and insanity are blamed and Rochester explains how he was forced to marry this Creole woman and bring her back to England. A plot device rather than a character, she serves to represent the darkness in our pasts that can reignite in the present with devastating consequences.


In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys doesn’t so much as give Bertha a voice, she gives us a new way of looking at such a well-known book. She challenges and questions it, illuminating what has gone before and reminding us that,

There is always another side, always.

The book is told in three parts, in the first part, Bertha, or Antoinette Cosway as she is before being renamed, is detailing her childhood brought up by that ‘infamous mother’. The second part begins to dovetail into Jane Eyre, as we hear from the point of view of Rochester and in part three we are in familiar territory as Antoinette takes over the narrative again, this time from her attic room in Thornfield Hall as she becomes increasingly unravelled and unable to distinguish between dreams and reality.

In Part One, before becoming Bertha Mason, Antoinette Cosway is a Creole heiress living in Jamaica. Like Jane she is an orphan and like Jane, she is a pariah in the eyes of her neighbours, and the book opens with the family mansion being torched by ex-slaves and a girl she once thought of as a friend hitting her with a rock. This is no island paradise and Rhys is wonderful at evoking the oppressive and threatening nature of so much sunshine, so much colour.

Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near.

This is a different type of gothic from Jane Eyre –the cold and the wind replaced with a different kind of heaviness, the weight of a relentless heat.

I knew the time of day when though it is hot and blue and there are no clouds, the sky can have a very black look

Into this landscape comes Mr Rochester (unnamed in the novel) who, initially intrigued by Antoinette’s beauty, becomes poisoned against her by the tales of her mother’s madness. Their bitter romance reaches its peak in Part Three when Antoinette is now quarantined in the attic of Thornfield Hall, being looked after, or guarded by Grace Poole. As the narrative becomes increasingly unravelled and confused, the book ends where Jane and Rochester begin, with the fire that kills Bertha and disfigures Rochester. Antoinette’s journey from youth to death is a mirror opposite of Jane’s journey, as depicted by Brontëand her story hides a truth that Jane can only glimpse as the two novels merge together.

Wide Sargasso Sea surprised me in that it doesn’t feel like a prequel, which is what I had expected. It is so much more than that – a deeply political book in its own right that explores the post-colonial landscape and gives a voice to not only Bertha’s unheard story, but the unheard stories of those marginalised whether it be by race, class or gender. Antoinette is a clever woman, but to her family she is simply another item to be included in a transaction. To Rochester she is an acquisition to be named at will. Unhappy with the similarity of her name to her mothers, he calls her Bertha as a means of asserting his control over her

Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too

Rochester may feel he is superior to those around him, but as Antoinette points out, he is performing his own kind of black magic on her by making her something she is not.

The book is rife with the imagery of illusion and reality, featuring mirrors and opposites and references to heaven and hell. Just as Rhys is holding up a mirror to Jane Eyre, so too is she reflecting Antoinette’s past and her present.

There is no looking-glass here and I don’t know what I am like now. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us – hard, cold and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?

Bertha is ultimately disenfranchised and disinherited, taken from all she know and labelled to suit her coloniser. It is a harsh reality that cannot be changed by magic and just as dreams are portents to Jane Eyre, dreams become Bertha’s escape and her inability to separate her dreams from her reality is ultimately what causes her to die.

Rhys writes beautifully and evocatively. The prose is laden with images of heat and fire with the colour red taking on particular significance, yet this is a chilling book which transcends its starting point to become glorious in its own right.


I read Wide Sargasso Sea as part of Jacqui Wine’s Reading Rhys week and I am incredibly grateful for the nudge.

Read on: Book
Number Read: 137
Number Remaining: 609

The Privileged by Emily Hourican


Emily Hourican’s The Privileged, is a well-written entertaining story focusing on the friendship between three south side Dublin girls on the brink of adulthood. The title gives it away, but this is a tale of upper middle class teenagers with upper middle class problems, which means that sometimes it’s hard to be as sympathetic to their plights as the plot would wish us to be.


Stella and Laura are life-long friends who are outsiders at their exclusive school (I’m unsure as to why) until they form an unlikely friendship with the beautiful and popular Amanda O’Hagen who draws them into her world of wealth and privilege. The three become inseparable, until Amanda’s work in the modelling industry leads to constant partying and drug taking. The arrival of a Huw, a rich English man with his own penchant for self-destruction, eventually drives a wedge between Amanda and everyone around her.

The book opens with the women now in their thirties as Laura, a journalist and Stella, a lawyer, meet in London to try and save Amanda from a very public and dangerous downfall.

The book skilfully moves from present to past, exploring the lives and career paths the three girls have followed and exploring how friendships, no matter how strong, can disintegrate at an alarming rate. Hourican is also effective at exploring Amanda’s toxic relationship with her mother and how it ties in with her self-destructive descent into drug addiction. The heady atmosphere of that time between school and university when the world is there for the taking is also well captured and the bonds of teenage friendship and the belief that it will last forever will be recognisable to many.

Ultimately though, these are characters who are often hard to care about. The very privilege that allows the story to flourish, also means that the stakes never feel high enough. These are the children of artists, solicitors and stockbrokers and their disappointment at where their lives have ended up is dramatically unconvincing. To my mind, Laura is the most interesting of the three girls, but her story is somewhat eclipsed by Amanda’s Amy Winehouse-style fall from social grace and Stella’s tangled love life. As Hourican is herself a journalist, Laura’s work life in the newsroom, trying to balance ethics with the problem of declining newspaper sales, is vivid and intriguing in comparison to Stella’s sterile work in a New York law firm.

However, this book is about Amanda and while it is to Hourican’s credit that Amanda’s descent into a life of addiction and degradation is convincing, I found Amanda herself to be a bit of a cipher. Amanda is beautiful, intelligent, wealthy, charming, charismatic and adored by all and yet little of a personality comes through.

They had read into her something that spoke more clearly of their own dreams and hopes than of anything that was actually there. Photographers saw a muse, her mother had seen glory, Stella and Laura escape, their friends from college excitement.

That is maybe the intention, the idea that we can never really know someone, but as the lead character of a book, it leaves a bit of a vacuum. As a reader, I was interested in Amanda, but not invested in her and the ‘betrayal’ between the three, which changes the course of their friendship, is equally underwhelming.

Despite these issues, Hourican has crafted a very readable and timely story. She writes well and has a skill in capturing those moments in youth that can feel momentous and life-changing, but overall the book didn’t wholly convince.

I received The Privileged from the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest review

20 Books of Summer 2016 – how did you do?

Well, that’s it – 20 Books of Summer is officially over!


Did I do it? Just about. I’m two thirds of the way through book 20, so I’m calling this one a win!

It’s been a hectic summer and it has flown by and if the reviews weren’t so plentiful at least the reading was great. I picked 20 really fantastic books this year and that made my challenge much, much easier. I didn’t really read any that I didn’t enjoy and while I had some issues with My Lover’s Lover, Sister and Blue Nights, I’m still glad I read them.

On the plus side, I really loved quite a few of my summer books. Stand outs were MJ Hyland’s mesmerizing This Is How and the heartwarming charm of The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. A quick search has told me that I have a couple more of her novels in the 746, so I can’t wait to read those. Honourable mentions should also go to A Crime in the Neighbourhood, The Keep and The Age of Innocence, all of which were great and I’m glad I made one swap, as Belinda McKeon’s Solace was a quiet gem.

So how did you all do? I know a few people finished all 20 a few weeks ago, which is fantastic, but as long as we all had fun, that’s the main thing.

I’d really like to thank you all – all 82 you! – for taking part and making it a great summer challenge. I was overwhelmed by how many of you got involved. A particular shout out must go to our Australian friends, for taking part in 20 Books of Summer during the midst of their winter – although often their temperatures were better than mine in Northern Ireland!

Every year I say I’m never going to do this challenge again, and then summer rolls around and I go for it. We’ll see how it goes next year, but if I do it again, I will have to do some serious planning!

So, what’s up next for the 746? Well, I have A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf lined up next for Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong and I also hope to take part in Jacqui Wine’s Reading Rhys – a week devoted to the work of Jean Rhys starting next Monday and I have Wide Sargasso Sea lined up for that.


I also have a bit of a back log of recent Irish books to review which will keep me pretty busy, but there are some gems in this little pile that I’m really looking forward to!


I’m also tantalizingly close to getting the TBR into the 500s – only 10 to go, so I hope to do that by the end of the year.

But the main thing I hope to do over the coming months is catch up with reading and commenting on all your fabulous blogs. I’ve been so very slack and I am looking forward to reconnecting with you all.

Thanks again for all the support and I hope you all had a great summer.