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Murder most foul in Dublin

The Trespasser by Tana French

Lauded by critics including folks at the New Yorker and the New York Times, Tana French is now one of the top crime/police novelists in the world, her reputation having been made via a series of novels that look at Irish society and, specifically, members of Dublin’s Murder Squad.

French’s examination of Irish life includes modern, and recent, problems, such as the fallout from the country’s economic collapse in 2008 – one of her best books, Broken Harbor, takes place mainly on a nearly deserted “ghost estate” – but she overlays this with timeless tales of crime, fractured families and the inner workings police investigations and relationships that feel classic and fully realized. For her last several novels, she’s employed a neat trick: introducing new police officers and having them be supporting players in one book, and then the main narrative voice in the next.

And so for her latest, the excellent The Trespasser, troubled detective Antoinette Conway (who was introduced in French’s last novel, The Secret Place) is the narrator, while the guy who narrated Place, her partner Stephen Moran, is seen through her eyes. This is a brilliant way of carrying forward the overarching narrative of French’s books, and it’s employed here better than ever before, for several reasons.

First, this story – which involves the death of an odd, troubled young woman named Aislinn Murray in her apartment – is simply more interesting than Place, which examined the lives of Irish teenagers and was, at times, a slog to get through. Second, Conway – driven, whip-smart and perpetually angry at the sexist bullying she is receiving from the older male detectives – is a stronger voice and a more compelling character than Moran. Slighted, her evidence messed with, her locker pissed in, she is fighting severe depression and an urge to pack it all in and work a cushy job in private security, and one can hardly blame her. Trespasser follows the few days of the investigation into Murray’s death, which looks for a long time like a simple case of a new boyfriend – the meek bookstore owner Rory Fallon – lashing out for some unspecified reason, but which soon becomes a far darker, deeper tale that includes long-standing family issues, obsession and collusion.

I certainly won’t spoil it for you, save to say that this is an excellent read whether or not you have followed French’s detectives this far or not. The basic plot is classic detective stuff: the murderer and the motivation seem simple, but things are not as they seem, and it takes the hard work and quick thinking of a heroic cop to untangle the threads of both the murder and what led up to it. On top of this French lays extremely well-drawn characters, all of whom (and certainly Conway herself) are deeply flawed. Her ear for dialogue remains excellent, and the conclusion is satisfying, wonderfully low-key and sad.

The book’s end also brings up an interesting question: where will French take the narrative now? It obviously can’t be Moran and Conway who both, as already noted, have now each been the narrative voice of one novel. There are a few candidates for the next narrator of the next novel in the series, but none, if French is going to stay true to form, seem obvious; in other words, it’s not like Conway and Moran got a new partner in these pages. So who will step forward next time? I don’t know. But I’m willing to wait and find out.