Sometimes – particularly after a book like Harvest – I like to treat myself to an entertaining, page-turning, ‘don’t have to think too hard’ thriller. That was the plan with Faithful Place, but I didn’t quite get what I bargained for.
Faithful Place is Tana French’s third instalment in her Dublin Murder Squad series. Our narrator, Frank Mackey, an undercover cop who appeared in her second novel The Likeness, is forced to face the past he’s been running from for over twenty years and reassess everything he has believed to be true. Frank has defined himself by the loss of his first love, Rosie Daly, who dumped him — and was never seen or heard from again — on the night they were to elope to England. Two decades on, Frank has cut all ties with his dysfunctional family and Faithful Place, the street where he grew up, until he gets a call to say that Rosie’s suitcase has been found.
It’s time for Frank to go home.
This is a story of past and present and how they collide, merge and have a habit of blending in to one another. It is a tale of two eras in one city, the 1980’s and the present day, the prosperity years of the Celtic Tiger don’t get a look in.
In some ways, Faithful Place doesn’t feel like a crime novel. Sure, it has all you would want. An unsolved crime, a middle-aged maverick detective with an ex-wife, an adored daughter and a blatant disregard for rules and a murderer close to home. Yet this elaborate tale of family obligations, regrets and first love is both a page turner and a tale to savour all at the same time. Pretty much everything in the novel happens in one street, there is little in the way of evidence being uncovered, just a slow excruciating exorcism of the past which pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go. There isn’t even a big reveal, a ‘twist’ from the Harlan Coben School of Crime Writing, just a series of events that blow apart the lives of those in the fall out zone. The mystery of ‘whodunit’ is tightly wrapped up in the themes of sibling rivalry, long held resentments, family violence and the childhood dreams of escape.
As Frank gets closer to the truth, the tension does build, but again the suspense isn’t the main point. There is darkness, anxiety and danger on every page, the real life kind where people are pushed to the edge because of circumstance, fear and desperation. Frank is so well drawn, so very ordinarily real, that the reader undergoes the same psychological struggle as he does in trying to work out what happened to Rosie. In fact, every character is so well drawn that by the end of the novel, it’s hard to pin point the crime itself, everyone is implicated. French has a fantastic gift for dialect and for dialogue which turns her characters from potential archetypes into fully rounded people. She resists the urge to resort to a simple bogeyman to explain away the pain and as such I even had sympathy for the murderer by the end and was left with as many questions as answers.
Intelligent, absorbing and rich in detail – what more could you want from your crime fiction?
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