Thursday, December 29, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Trespasser by Tana French

Tana French has been one of my favorite authors since her stunning (and genre busting) debut novel In the Woods. She is one of the few authors I will purchase in hardback immediately upon release. In The Trespasser, Ms. French continues her series of murder-mysteries set in the milieu of Dublin, with a different primary protagonist in every subsequent novel. In The Secret Place (the fifth book in what is now commonly known as the Dublin Murder Squad series), Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran worked together to find out who had killed a teenaged boy in the posh private school attended by  Holly Mackey, one of their colleague's daughters. That colleague (Frank Mackey) had previously appeared in The Likeness and Faithful Place. It is this apparently haphazard recycling of seemingly minor characters from previous books into primary characters in subsequent books which sets French's Dublin Murder Squad apart from other series in the genre.

However, in the latest (and sixth) entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser, French has repeated herself for the first time, by using Conway and Moran as the primary characters again. Actually, for all intents and purposes this is an Antoinette Conway mystery--she's the only character who gets a first-person narrative, although we get a lot of what Moran is thinking mediated through Conway's perceptions and interretations of his words, actions and signals. Regardless, for the second book in a row, the two work together to try and solve the mystery of who killed Aislinn Murray, a pretty young lass who was found with part of her head bashed in while wearing a sexy dress and a potentially romantic dinner for two burnt to a crisp in her well-appointed apartment after a curious anonymous tip was called into the police. Was the killer her date or a trespasser?

We had previously known from her appearance in The Secret Place  that Conway was an embittered (but excellent) detective but we didn't really know exactly how paranoid (and self-destructive) she can be until we are exposed to her neuroses full-time in the internal monologues the reader is given access to in The TrespasserAntoinette is being subject to a hostile work environment as the only female in a squad of two dozen males, with important files disappearing from her desk, disdainful look and cheeky remarks directed her way and absolutely no acknowledgement that anything is amiss from anyone else. For the first time in the series (I think), French dabbles with the trope of the unreliable narrator. 

That being said, to me The Trespasser is French's best book of the series so far, replacing the emotionally shattering Broken Harbor at the top of the heap. This is a welcome return to the form after some of excesses and errors displayed in The Secret Place. This time the stakes are raised so high for our protagonists (either Conway solves the mystery of whodunit or she will need to resign from Murder and take a spirit-crushing but lucrative private security job, abandoning Moran to his own devices). In fact, at one critical juncture in the investigation, Conway basically decides she's going to leave Murder regardless of whether she gets a solve or not (this is just one reason I would say that she's an unreliable narrator). One of the last key scenes in the book is near the end when she finally reveals her decision about her future to her partner Stephen.

A major feature of French's novels are her depictions of police interrogations and other conversations in general. As an American reader, some of the dialogue can be impenetrable ("gaff" for home, "gaffer" for boss, "jacks" for bathroom and many, many more) but it is the running dialogue of the observations and intentions of the speakers that French includes as the investigator and the suspect duel in the interview room that animates and elevates her books above other mysteries, and this book above the others in the series. Although it is at its heart another police procedural, all of French books subvert and transcend the narrow binds of genre. What French does is make it clear that the necessary job qualifications to be a successful Murder detective, namely being able to tell whether someone is lying, always wondering whether someone is telling you the truth or trying to determine someone's motives from their body language and words are things detectives do incessantly and seemingly reflexively). It seems exhausting and absolutely inimical to healthy relationships with other human beings, and we see that play out in different ways in basically all the members of the Dublin Murder Squad that appear in the book (Conway, Moran, McCann, Roche, O'Kelly and Breslin). 

But this truth about the toll her characters pay does not lessen the reader's respect or admiration for the difficult job detectives do and the pleasure we can take from seeing them do it in The Trespasser.

Title: The Trespasser.
Tana French.
Paperback: 456 pages.
Date Published: October 4, 2016.
Date Read: December 24 to 27, 2016.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


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