I absolutely love tales of the childhood/evil forest/deep mystery/revisited in adulthood variety (Stephen King's It, Stephen Irwin's The Darkening...) and now I can add Tana French's debut novel to that list.
20 years ago, Rob Ryan was playing in the woods near his home and something awful happened. Out of the three friends, he was the only one to come back out of the woods. Now he's a police detective and he's been called back to his childhood stomping ground as a child's body has been found by archaeologists working in the forest site. He has changed his name and hopes that no one realises who he is while he unravels the truth of child murders, today's and 20 years ago.
I couldn't put this book down. It is faultless. There is layer upon layer of histories to uncover much like the archaeologists in the novel. There are leads to be followed that end up nowhere or somewhere and a cast of believable, solid, likeable and unlikeable characters all spiralling around a central character who we very much feel for.
I actually felt a twinge of jealousy for French's talent - something that has never happened before to me - but she is an extremely talented writer. She elevates a crime story to something other. Something immensely readable and true.
I have read several Tana French books over the years and my enjoyment ranges from "quite a lot" to "wow! excellent book." This book falls into the "quite a lot" category, but that still means I recommend reading it.
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is an established, well-thought-of police detective in the Dublin Murder Squad. He is assigned a new case and a new partner, neither of which is as it seems. The case involves the murder of the father and 2 young children and the attempted murder of the mother. The family is living in a poorly- and partially-built development way outside of Dublin. The father has lost his job and so the entire family is under intense financial pressure. The murder scene is very odd--there are baby monitors everywhere and big holes in the walls.
Meanwhile, Kennedy's new partner, Richie Curran, seems to be the perfect match for Kennedy. Kennedy enjoys working with someone on the same wavelength he's on who can handle difficult situations extremely well. But Richie has his own issues, which end up impacting the investigation.
For almost all of the book, this was a rip-roaring read. I was extremely anti-social while I was reading it, trying to find as much time as possible to be alone and reading. I figured out much of the resolution about halfway through the book, but there were still things that were big surprises.
There were some things I didn't like, but they have to be in a spoiler.
Our library has been lucky enough to get a set of Tana French's new book The Secret Place as uncorrected proof copies. Looking on Amazon I see it is available from 24th August. It's quite a tome, 518 pages and for me quite painful for my arthritic hands to hold, but I could not put this book down.
The construct covers one day. This one day starts with a young girl from a very expensive private school in Ireland calling into the local police station to talk to a detective that she knew for two reasons. Firstly, her father works within the police and secondly, she had been a witness to a crime several years before and was coached by Steven Moran, then a young detective on, how to deliver her evidence. The young girl, Holly, is now a teenager and has with her a postcard with the face of a young man called Chris, who had been murdered in the girls' school grounds almost one year before. Chris was a pupil at the boys private school that is nearby and at the time of the murder the police had been unable to find any evidence as to who had committed the crime. On the card are the words, 'I know who killed him' - words that actually appear on the cover of the book. The story that follows is told alternately by Detective Moran of how the police, including him, attempt to follow up on this evidence, and retrospective events in third-person narrative that led up to Chris's murder.
The construct of this novel leads to the very slow exposure of everything relevant to solving the crime and for the reader. There are two groups of four girls who are most closely connected to Chris and what happens to him over a period of time. Very slowly the historical events reveal their relationships to each other and their personalities.. At the same time in the present time, we follow, through Detective Moran's eyes, the problems and the pressures the two detectives are under to find out who did kill Chris.
It's possible some readers might think this book drags too much, covers too much unnecessary ground, has too much detail; but for me that made it a better read. The tension builds slowly but intensely. At times I found it difficult to put down. At other times I had to put it down because it was too intense. For me to suffer the pain inflicted in my hands, this has to have been a good read for me.
Tana French has written two previous novels that I really enjoyed and am surprised not to find reviewed here, In the Woods and The Likeness. I liked both of them a lot and was looking forward to her third book, Faithful Place, which just came out this summer and which I read on my summer vacation.
I liked this book a lot, but it wasn't quite up to the other two. My recommendation is that you read the other two and then go ahead and read this one. Like the other two books, this mystery has roots deep in the past. In this case, the central mystery is one that no one knew was a mystery for 22 years. Young lovers Frank Mackey and Rosie Daly plan to elope from Dublin to England, but when Frank goes to meet her, she doesn't show up. In his jilted heartbreak, he leaves everything behind, but doesn't go very far--just to another area of (or near--the geography wasn't clear to me) Dublin, but cuts off all contact with his family, except interimittant contact with one sister, Jackie. His family is one you'd want to cut contact with, though, so there's not much surprise in that.
22 years later, his sister, Jackie, calls to say that they have found Rosie's suitcase and clothes behind the wall of an abandoned building that he and his teenage friends used as a clubhouse. Everyone is surprised because they thought that he and Rosie had eloped together since no one has seen her since that night.
What happened to Rosie is the central mystery of this book and it is interesting. French doesn't really hide the most likely suspect and you aren't surprised with the big reveal, so that's not the best part of the story. The best part of the history is from the period 22 years ago, the description of this block of families, the lives of the town they grew up in, Frank and Rosie's relationship, and the echoes into the present. But French writes well and that was enough for me to enjoy the book.
Next up--reviews of her previous two books. I can't imagine how I failed to review them.
French has sealed her place in my heart as one of my favourite authors. She is a skillful and inventive writer who writes excellent crime novels based around strange cases dealt with by a police division Dublin.
In The Likeness, I did have to suspend disbelief, but that was fairly easy to do when you trust an author to simply tell a tale well. Det. Cassie Maddox, when she was an undercover cop, used an undercover alias Lexie Madison and invented her entire back story.
Now she is called to the case of a murdered girl. A Lexie Madison who is the spitting image of Cassie. Her division have the perfect chance to slot Cassie in as Lexie in to the house she shared with other students in order to find out who killed Lexie. And who Lexie was. Her friends don't know that she died and they won't know until Cassie finds out what happened.
Yes, you have to suspend disbelief. Would people who lived and studied with Lexie not notice when a doppelganger is slotted in? Really? But you go with it and what you get is an incredibly tense read and a extended version of the Agatha Christie 'the killer is in this room' scenario. I loved it.