SinC25, #5 – Tana French

This is my fifth entry for the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Book Bloggers Challenge.

When I got Tana French’s third novel to review, I opened it with some trepidation. I was impressed with her first book, In the Woods, but I was more than usually frustrated by it, too. I found so much of the writing really brilliant, but the brilliance was thrown about (it seemed to me) indiscriminately, so that the scenes that mattered were no better dressed than the ones that really didn’t, like wearing diamonds on a track suit because they’re such lovely diamonds. And I disliked the narrator intensely for being so immature and coy and apparently proud of being utterly neurotic, and I disliked his equally immature female partner. I skipped the second book because the premise sounded so implausible and I was afraid I’d experience that same mixture of delight and disappointment.

But  Faithful Place was a top-notch read for me. It’s about a no-nonsense cop from a hardscrabble part of Dublin who parted with his roots and his family when he joined the police, which seen from the perspective of his neighborhood was as good as joining the enemy. His break from his family and the close-knit community of Faithful Place actually came earlier, when he planned to elope with a girl he loved, the two of them planning to Ireland for a new life. She stood him up, and he was left stranded, estranged from his past but without the future he’d dreamed about.The next best way to start fresh is to sign on as a police officer.

He’s done well and gone on to undercover work and, as the novel opens, is running complex undercover operations. He learns that his girl’s suitcase was found jammed up the chimney of an abandoned house. Her betrayal, the betrayal that shaped his life, is suddenly something very different, and he has to return home to find out what happened to her all those years ago.

Faithful Place is story about a family, their sense of belonging, and the place they call home. The city block where they live their claustrophobic lives becomes an emotional landscape that’s bigger and more dramatic than that of those globe-trotting thrillers in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance. It’s also a microcosm of a nation at a particular point in time that has a lot to say about how macroeconomic forces shape people’s lives. French’s writing style is just as talented as it was in her first book, but much more controlled and in scene after scene pitch-perfect. It’s funny and touching and sometimes poetic in a very Irish vein, and while the story itself may not be full of surprises, neither is Greek tragedy. This is one of those mysteries where character, setting, and its sense of place really carry the day.

Three similar women authors of crime fiction . . . let’s see . . .

  • Denise Mina – who is also good at nailing a time and place and has terrific dialogue that conveys those things;
  • Margaret Maron – who is very different in tone, but who created a strong sense of place and family in The Bootlegger’s Daughter;
  • and Jennifer McMahon – who writes very well indeed about the close relationships that children develop and the very richly detailed worlds they inhabit.




5 Responses to SinC25, #5 – Tana French

  1. Dorte H says:

    Ah, Tana French – and even better than the first one!

    Yes, I know – I can also see the flaws – I just love her wordy style.

    There, I admitted it, I know we are supposed to use as few words as possible, and never ever indulge in adverbs or adjectives, but I happen to loooove words.

    NB: my daughter grabbed your book after me, and she admitted that it was really good. If you knew her, you´d realize you´d just received a literary award ;)

    • Barbara says:

      Oh my, Dorte! I’m honored. I’m also incredibly late responding to this comment. I fell into a swoon and just recovered. No actually, I’m just a scatterbrain with too much going on at work. But thank you.

      And I too love words. There were passages of In the Woods that were gorgeous. But the overall effect (for me) was like eating too much of a good thing.

  2. kathy d. says:

    Agree on An Uncertain Place. I would add that it gives a good feel for urban Irish working-class life, where there are few options, and very little chance of a future.
    I especially was interested to read about how women live, women who either work in a factory, go on the dole or get married and raise a family in tough economic circumstances. Or there are a few illegal pursuits which the desperate turn to in order to pay the bills.
    French describes well the interpersonal relations within Frank’s family.
    I can’t wait for her next book, which I believe focuses on the new, young cop whom Frank pulls into the investigation.
    I definitely agree about the comparison to Denise Mina, very close writing style, similar characters and urban life.
    I can’t relate to the Margaret Maron comparison. Her books are not as gritty or as profound. Hers seem lighter, fun, and don’t delve into difficult issues in the almost brutal way which is seen in French’s books.
    In this book, I thought French was telling about another part of the human condition.

    • Barbara says:

      I admit that Maron was not the first writer to come to mind, but I remember reading the first book in that series and feeling a very strong sense of place and a vivid sense of the interrelationships of a family – including the inevitable conflict between a woman who’s a judge and her father who is a very colorful criminal. They are overall lighter books.

      I found it particularly poignant to read Faithful Place at a time when Ireland is tumbling back into that desperate economic situation in which Frank grew up – with a high unemployment rate for youth, few opportunities for workers, and an overall sense of being cursed with a system that won’t let you get ahead, where leaving home is sometimes necessary for survival. I wasn’t enamored of everything the Celtic Tiger economy brought with it by any means, but it must be terribly discouraging to look around today and see the ruins of it.

      (Though for readers – well, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of interesting crime fiction reflecting on these developments both in Ireland and in Iceland. Yes, Arnaldur and Yrsa, I’m ready to read all about it.)

  3. kathy d. says:

    And I would now add Greece, Italy and Portugal to countries in which bad economic decisions and priorities will fall on the majority of people, those who can least afford it.
    There may be many works of crime fiction coming out which reflect this trend.

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