Back in June I listened to Faithful Place by Tana French. What I love about French is that she writes dark, literary crime novels that share a lot of the appeal of the popular Nordic Noir, but with more subtle psychological suspense and less in your face violence. The other thing I enjoy with her books is that they are NOT a series. Both as a reader and as a librarian, I can have someone pick up any of her three books. There is no worry about the order here.
Here the plot involves Frank Mackey, the head of the Dublin Undercover unit, who 22 years ago left his family and old life behind, but is forced to return home when the suitcase of Rosie, the girl he had planned to run away with 22 years ago is discovered. Did she stand Frank up back then as he has thought all this time, or did some harm come to her? Frank must help solve the case and confront his family; a family he has ignored for two decades. Can he survive, both physically and emotionally, being drawn back into the drama of Faithful Place?
Last year I read French's debut novel In the Woods, and looking back, I was surprised by how much of what I said about the appeal of that novel applies here too:
In the Woods can best be described as: police procedural meets psychological suspense. This is a dark book, with an extremely flawed narrator. Bad things are happening here and even when the crime is "solved," no one is satisfied; in fact, just about everyone involved with the case has been ruined as a result of the investigation. And the kicker is, you know that it will not end well from the start, but you are so compelled by the complex plot, the interesting, 3-dimensional characters and their interactions that you cannot look away. I found myself cleaning out a closet, just so I could have 1 hour to myself to listen to this novel. I was completely absorbed by the story, the atmosphere, and the characters. Even when not much was happening, I needed to keep listening. It was a bit scary, like an addiction.That's the thing about French, it is how her books make you feel that is way more important than what happens. Her books are well plotted police procedurals, but the mysteries are not always solved, and if they are, the bad guy does not always get brought to justice. You are not quite sure what to expect. With the number of suspense books I read, this is a huge compliment. It is no wonder that her books end up on every award and best books list each time she writes a new one.
I also especially enjoy how she includes the politics behind the scenes at police headquarters, class issues (which are huge in these books), violence, especially between family and loved ones, the deep characterizations, and the emotion she brings out in her characters and the reader.
For example, there is an amazing extended scene at a wake in Faithful Place in the middle of the novel that reveals so much about the characters and the story without much happening, as well as an emotionally raw conversation between Frank and his ex-wife toward the end of the book. All of this detail could easily bog down the pacing, but it does not. This novel may be dark, atmospheric, and unsettling, but it is also steadily paced.
In the two books I have read by French, she also uses a case from the past to draw ties to the present. In both cases, the past case was also connected to the lead investigator. I found this a compelling plot device in both cases. The sense of place is also huge. I could see, smell, and hear the neighborhood of Faithful Place. I was there with Frank, even though I nave never been to Dublin.
Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, psychological suspense, family
Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature): Working-Class Dublin
Readalikes: Kate Atkinson also has the past intrude upon her literary, atmospheric, crime novels featuring Jackson Brodie. Fans of French or Atkinson would enjoy the other. Click here to see what I have had to say about Atkinson in the past.
Also, click here for my report, with tons of readalikes from when I read French's first novel, In the Woods.
I also think people who like the unsettling psychological suspense of Peter Abrahams (try, Oblivion) or Ruth Rendell (try, 13 Steps Down) would find enjoyment in French. But if you like the atmosphere of French but want a little more meat to the police procedural part of the plot, I suggest Tess Gerritsen (try, The Keepsake), C. J. Box (try, Blue Heaven) or John Lescroart (try, Dead Irish).