Book Review: Faithful Place by Tana French

Faithful Place is the third installment in Tana French’s highly popular Dublin Murder Squad series. Rich atmosphere, complex characters, and great writing make this a very satisfying mystery. I read it is part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. (March’s challenge was to read a book by an Irish author.)

Frank Mackey is a veteran detective on Dublin’s police force. He left his working class neighborhood, Faithful Place, when he was 19 and never looked back. His memories of the place haunt him. His father is an abusive alcoholic, his mother is a shrill villain and the five siblings have a dysfunctional relationship. On the night he left home, his girlfriend, Rosie, was supposed to join him but she never showed, leading Frank to believe she jilted him. In fact, everyone in the neighborhood, including Rosie’s parents, think she just ran off to England to start a new life.

Now, 22 years later, Rosie’s packed suitcase is found in one of the neighborhood’s abandoned houses. Reluctantly, Frank returns home and quickly gets drawn back into toxic family dynamics. He’s quickly reminded of why he’s been estranged for two decades. Upon examining the suitcase, it becomes apparent that Rosie didn’t leave town that long ago night. That’s confirmed when they find Rosie’s remains buried in the basement of the abandoned house. This isn’t Frank’s case to solve, but he launches his own investigation, anyway. This is personal. As he delves into this 22-year-old cold case, the facts take him very close to home.

First let me talk about Frank. This is probably one of the most complex characters I’ve seen in recent memory. He’s 2/3 jerk and 1/3 likable and relatable. Examples of jerkiness – he intimidates a woman with threatened violence, manipulates a rookie cop into committing a big ethics violation, and ignores one of his brothers when he obviously needs help. On the flip side, he’s a good father to his young daughter, clearly loved Rosie in a very unselfish way, and demonstrates flashes of tenderness, charm and remorse. He’s the narrator and regularly claims not to care about certain things but then acts in ways that show that he really does, in fact, care. So some of his jerkdom is just really a hard outer shell that he has cultivated over the years. Overall, despite his flaws, I was mostly cheering for him.

Then there was the compelling atmosphere. I’m a sucker for well done flashbacks, especially when they involve tragic young love. This novel contains a lot of really well done flashbacks that bring Rosie to life as a vibrant young woman, show Frank as a young guy grasping for some beauty in his life, and set a tone of yearning, tragedy and loss. Additionally, Tana French really brought the Faithful Place neighborhood to life as a hive of hopelessness, drama and tribal norms. It was almost another, churlish character in its own right.

Finally, the mystery itself was pretty well done. It wasn’t an eye popping surprise, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what this book was going for. It’s really a character driven suspense novel rather than a classic mystery. I was okay with that.

I was hoping this month’s read would provide a good dose of Irish-ness, and Faithful Place delivered, complete with plenty of colorful Irish insults. I had to look several of them up. I was going to write about some of them, but I was worried some of them are really naughty. This is a family website, afterall. I’m no eejit!

Did you read something by an Irish author this month? I’d love to hear about it!

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. (This in no way affects the honesty of my reviews!)

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Faithful Place by Tana French

  1. Faithful Place gets added to my list. 🙂

    I read Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson, a book set in Belfast during the “Troubles”. Given the setting, there is bleakness and worry, but there is also humor and love. Quite a lot of love, both for people and for the city itself. Very well written. So much so that I found myself quoting lines of the book at my husband as I read it.

    Although the language and topics within the book (swearing, sexual and drug references, violence–including, most notably, and necessary–a chapter detailing a bombing that took many lives… heartbreaking but touching and one of those things that rattles around your head and leaves you grateful) might not suit everyone, I would still recommend this book to everyone all the same. There is also so much kindness and affection. Really, an incredible book.

    Thank you for this reading challenge. It’s getting the dusty to-reads off my shelf and into my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karen! Eureka Street sounds really interesting. I’m going to try to track down an ebook version of it. I’m old enough to remember some of the “Troubles” but I never really understood what was happening. It would be interesting to hear what sounds like a very personal perspective on it. Thanks for commenting!

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      • Yes, I’m old enough also. I had a pen pal (before email) from Belfast and knew a little about things but it had been a while since I’d thought about it. This book was a great read on many levels. I found it as a used paperback and will be keeping it on my shelf.

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  2. Hi Michelle! I finished my Irish read just in time last week. I was not expecting Tara Road by Maeve Binchy to be a 650 page novel with dozens of characters to keep track of! The story bounced back and forth from one relationship to another and kept me on my toes. This novel was an Oprah Book Club choice and was characterized as charming and difficult to put down. For me, I felt frustrated by the weakness of some of the women and the “jerkiness” of a couple of the men. (They were definitely “eejits”!)

    The book revolves around the stories of two women who end up trading homes for a summer in an attempt to run away from their troubles and hopefully reset their lives. Secrets are discovered by each of them and then kept from one another in order to protect the happiness that each woman regained.

    I felt immersed in this modern-day Irish setting, gained a bit of insight to the diversity of challenges lived by the characters, but felt a bit overwhelmed by the relationship issues continuously coming up.

    I’m now looking forward to reading the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. Happy April!

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    • It sounds interesting! I have a hard time keeping track of characters when there are a lot of them. I’ve noticed that good authors realize this and drop little reminders when a character hasn’t been in a scene for a while.

      I’m tackling Lonesome Dove this month. I should probably get started because it’s very long!

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  3. Greetings from Bol, Croatia. I too read Faithful Place. For a jump back into Irish life, this book did not disappoint. There were many great things about this book. First and foremost, as Michelle mentioned, the characters were really well done. Also, the hopelessness that existed in Faithful Place is palpable. Frank is the one that escaped this place but very quickly, he is drawn back into its vortex. I can’t remember when I’ve loathed a character as much as his mother. She was a bitter root. I also had to look up many words that were used in the book since I was unsure of what they meant even though it was still in English. That was kind of fun.
    Despite the great setting and the great characters, I still found myself leaving the story a little disappointed. I guess I was looking for that mystery or suspense novel with the clever ending? I kept waiting for a big twist to the story, but it never came. Maybe I’ve been reading too many suspense novels…! Further, it just seemed to me that Frank should’ve been the primary suspect of the investigation due to his relationship with Rosie. That didn’t ever materialize – or at least not as much as I thought it should. Finally, the story was just too long. I guess with so many pages to go and the mystery already solved contributed to my expectation of a good twist. I guess no twist was the twist itself.
    Okay now to get busy on Lonesome Dove! I need an extra backpack just to carry this one with me. Molly and I set the mood for Lonesome Dove by watching A Fistful Of Dollars the other night on Croatian TV. Round’em up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just Googled Bol and it looks gorgeous! Hope you and Molly are enjoying your trip!

      That’s a great point about how Frank should have been the primary suspect! There were a couple of times when I was expecting the other detective to accuse Frank, but it just never happened. And regarding the twist that never happened – I wonder if all her books are like this. I liked this book enough that I will be reading other books in the series, so I’ll find out.

      But first I need to finish Lonesome Dove, which I’m 5% of the way through. What were we thinking?! 😉

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