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!