SinC25, #5 – Tana French

October 23, 2011

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.