The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser

by Tana French

In this latest installment by Tana French, Det. Antoinette Conway and her partner, Det. Stephen Moran of the Dublin Murder Squad take center stage.  Handed what on its surface appears to be a textbook domestic abuse-turned-murder case to deal with, Det. Conway and Det. Moran quickly realize that all is not as it appears.  Battling sexism in the squad adds to the complexity of trying to solve a murder case.  Gathering evidence and interviewing parties with different connections to the murder victim lead Conway and Moran on what ends up being a wild goose chase – possibly intentionally.  In the end, who killed Aislinn Murray and why threatens to blow the Dublin Murder Squad apart.

I’ve been a devoted reader of Tana French since her first novel, In the Woods, was published a few years back.  Some of her novels I’ve liked more than others (the above-mentioned In the Woods, as well as The Likeness and Faithful Place, stand out).  The Trespasser is a superb whodunnit, but I was put off by Det. Antoinette Conway’s character.  She’s written as a little too tough-as-nails to be believable or likable.  While I appreciate French’s representation of sexism in the workplace, Conway feels like a bit of an overcompensation – an over-the-top cisgender, heterosexual anti-female.  I was also put off by Conway’s use of “retard” and “fucktard” in the story.  Come on, Ms. French.  Do we really have to continue to use slurs against marginalized people in an effort to be edgy?

Worth reading if you like police procedurals/murder mysteries, but with caveats.

The Secret Place by Tana French

20821043 The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad)

by Tana French

After Tana French’s first three crime novels, which were all fabulous, she hasn’t quite managed to hit as high a note.

As French has done in the previous novels, she weaves the current story around a character who played a minor part in a previous story.  The Secret Place takes us back to the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, and front and center is Holly Mackey, daughter of Detective Frank Mackey who starred in Faithful Place (my personal favorite of her novels so far).  The novel opens with sixteen-year old Holly, who lives at a prestigious boarding school, bringing an anonymous card to one Detective Stephen Moran, who has been relegated to the Cold Cases division where her daddy works.  The card claims to know the identity of the person who murdered a boy from a neighboring boarding school a year before; Holly claims to have found the card pinned to a “confessions” bulletin board (known as “The Secret Place” – that is, the place for secrets) at school.  Detective Moran would love a shot at moving up the ladder to Murder, and this may be his shot.  Problem is, he’ll have to ingratiate himself to – and seriously impress – head of Murder, Antoinette Conway, who is one hard bitch.

Moran and Conway set off for St. Kilda’s school for girls to investigate the source of the anonymous card, hoping it will lead, finally, to a resolution of the murder of young Chris Harper.  At the heart of the day’s investigation are the two prominent girl cliques: Holly and her three closest friends (“They’re my family!”), and a rival group.  The two groups of girls hate each other.

I was taken in right away by French’s almost intoxicating gift of putting down dialogue and descriptions.  You can almost hear the Irish coming off the pages.  The mystery of who killed Chris Harper is intriguing, and I wanted to know who did it.  French also does a good job of conveying the mean girl stuff you hear about – whoowee, can teenage girls be horrible!  However, the story became somewhat tedious, as the entire book spans the course of one day with Detectives Moran and Conway interrogating students and searching dorms, with flashbacks of the previous year thrown in.  Also, an element of the supernatural was thrown in, with one group of girls for some reason being able to turn lights on and off with their minds, levitate stuff, and so forth.  I thought that was unnecessary to the story and diminished its credibility.  Finally, there are so many slurs against the intellectually disabled – it was a total turnoff.  “Saint Fucktardius” stands out, and so many “retarded”s, “idiot”s, and “moron”s that I lost count.

I wanted to like this book more than I did.  It was okay, but not stellar.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor by Tana French

In this latest installment of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy takes center stage as he investigates the horrifying attack on a seemingly idyllic suburban family, leaving the father and two young children dead and the mother in critical condition after being stabbed repeatedly.  Who would commit such a heinous crime, and why?  And why was the family’s internet history wiped from their computer around the time of the murders?  Why are there strange holes scattered in the walls of their otherwise pristinely-kept home?  And what’s with all the baby monitors and the deadly animal trap?

Full of strange twists, this story certainly keeps you guessing.  Just when the answer seems obvious, the story takes another turn, exploring the prevalence the internet age, and the impact on personal lives of the housing boom and subsequent crash and recession (which apparently has unfolded in Ireland much as it has in the U.S.)

I eagerly anticipated this latest novel from Tana French since last summer, and I have to say that it was a bit of a disappointment.  I found it a little tedious with the witness interviews that went on for pages and pages, and I’m still not quite sure about the relevance of Mick’s private back story, except that perhaps it’s just meant to give his character more depth.  Although I love how Ms. French brings in peripheral characters from a previous novel and sets them up as the main character, Mick himself feels too similar to Faithful Place’s Frank Mackey (and I liked Frank Mackey better).  Some of the supporting characters in this story, too, just don’t help make the story – for instance, Mick’s younger, mentally ill sister who comes off as mean, narcissistic, and obnoxious more than “crazy as a bag of cats.”

That said, it’s worth the read – just not her best work.

I do hope that Ms. French’s next book puts Det. Richie Curran – Mick’s rookie partner in this story – at center stage.