My first encounter with Tana French was some time ago when we were looking for novels that would introduce us to Dublin prior to our traveling there. Her The Likeness, despite its high quality, offered little of Dublin atmosphere. Certainly no Joycean walk around the city. However, I decided French offered enough literary acumen to deserve another visit. Thus, I turned to Broken Harbor. Now I’m back with Tana in Dublin, which is a good place to be if you’re looking for crime stories. This time it’s on a street called Faithful Place.
The neighborhood is run-down, the next thing to a slum. Undercover detective Francis Mackey grew up there, but fled twenty-two years earlier when an elopement went sour. He didn’t have his girl with him, but figured he needed to get the hell out anyhow. Then, after all this time, comes the phone call from his sister, Jackie, that demolition workers had discovered a suitcase belonging to his lost love in one of the derelict buildings. Game on.
Mackey assumed Rosie O’Daly had dumped him and taken off to London on her own. No one had seen or heard from her the entire time, and they all chose to assume she was living a happy, healthy life in parts unknown. Now, doubts arise.
So Mackey has to return to the wildly combative and alcoholic household he’d been avoiding lo these many. In between, he’s married in an upscale manner, subsequently divorced his prosecutor spouse, and in the interim fathered a girl who is now nine. French has a gift for inventing situations that place people in the the most intense possible conflict. Thus, Mackey’s attempt to solve this highly personal crime when his colleagues deem him too involved to take the case, his attempt to spare his daughter exposure to the raw ugliness of his family, his attempt to keep the peace between himself, his child, and his ex make for an explosive cocktail. And explode it does. Mackey’s hair-trigger temper and tendency to bilious habits don’t help. It’s another talent of French’s to create flawed protagonists who nevertheless invite sympathy. Even if we do, in my opinion, spend too much time inside Frank’s head, he’s still an entertaining and fascinating character, and I don’t begrudge Tana a word of the prose she uses to put us there.
Finally, the mystery of Faithful Place–lots of connotations, by the way, for that name–turns out to be not who committed the crimes. It’s proving it. And–another French touch–we’re left wondering if punishment will indeed follow the crime. Sweet suspense that will last forevermore unless she reveals all in a later novel.
One nice thing about mysteries set abroad. If you’ve been there or are about to go, being able to picture the locale counts for a lot. I knew Trinity College from Joyce’s work, but to have touched the stones, to have walked by the River Liffey, to know what’s implied when they talk about Grafton Street–cozy.