Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Faithful Place by Tana French

Author Tana French just keeps getting better and better.

I first began reading her work last year when I picked up her much-lauded debut mystery novel In the Woods. With the caveat that I don't read mysteries often, In the Woods was like nothing I'd ever read before. Complex, atmospheric and creepy, it plunged me into the main character's traumatic past and present-day psychological unraveling with little mercy.

There were times I could feel the hair on the back of my neck standing on end — not from overdone violence or hackneyed terror devices but French's amazing way of showing us glimpses of the unknown without ever giving us the luxury of a big reveal. In French's capable hands, I'm not quite sure I'd survive a big reveal.

French has since released three more books in what's known as the Dublin Murder Squad series: The Likeness, Faithful Place and, most recently, Broken Harbor. I just finished Faithful Place and am looking forward to delving into Broken Harbor. The more I read her, the more I like her work. Each story has featured compelling characters grappling with unique, gripping scenarios both internally and in real life.

In each of these installments, French takes a character introduced in the prior book in the series and gives them their own chance to shine. Nevertheless, newcomers to the Dublin Murder Squad should have no problems following Faithful Place because there aren't any allusions to earlier books.

Faithful Place follows hard-bitten Dublin undercover investigator Frank Mackey, who returns reluctantly to the serpent's den he once called home.

Twenty-two years ago Frank and his young love Rosie Daly had planned to run away together. But Rosie never showed that fateful night. Brokenhearted, Frank had always assumed she'd decided to go it alone. He left Faithful Place that night as well and has never looked back. But now Rosie's packed suitcase has surfaced, suggesting she never made it out and perhaps met a more sinister end than anyone ever expected.

In his burning quest to find out what happened, Frank reluctantly returns to the dysfunctional family fold, dredging up all kinds of unwelcome memories about his alcoholic father, abrasive mother and his siblings. French portrays their relationships with an artistry that will leave you breathless in the way the Mackeys spasm between nuclear-level toxicity to scenes of familiar domesticity. It is utterly exhausting and utterly believable. Resentments and secrets run deep in this family and this blue-collar street.

Skirting the official investigation surrounding Rosie's fate, Frank exerts his considerable skill, chutzpah and rage to draw out the real story. The mind games he plays reveal his impressive repertoire at reading people and getting them to talk.

Complicating matters further are Frank's rocky relationships with his ex-wife and daughter. He walks a precarious balancing act trying to spend time with them while ferreting out the facts at Faithful Place. It's no surprise he struggles to maintain some semblance of self-possession as past and present collide. And you're inside his head the entire time, struggling simultaneously to make sense of it all.

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