Bits, bobs, book review: Faithful Place, by Tana French

Posted on July 30, 2010 by

My father is heading off to China for a couple of years and has heard rumors that photoblogging there doesn’t work so well if one uses Flickr. Anyone been there recently enough to know if this is true?

And speaking of Flickr, I caught a cedar waxwing with its gob open on my way to Italian Tuesday:
Cedar Waxwing
On to books: I started reviewing fiction for Tangent, way back in its print day, because I felt as though I had stuck myself in a readerly rut. I wanted an external reason to pick up books I would never hear of, let alone consider reading. And it worked: I discovered a whole wide wonderful range of writers I might not have otherwise heard of: Kurt R.A. Giambiastiani and Peter Watts and Justina Robson and Syne Mitchell, to name a few. I also, of course, read a lot of things that were just okay. And even a few I regretted; that’s the price, right?

Time moves on, needs change and I have been in a place lately where I want total control over my reading choices. So, perhaps not surprisingly, I have really liked the last four books I read. This past weekend I inhaled the newest novel by my latest writer crush: Tana French. Faithful Place is the third of the Dublin Murder Squad books. I had planned to be disciplined, to take my time, but it’s a suspenseful novel. I got up a head of steam and about the time when I meant to put it down, there was a noisy car accident outside our window that eliminated all chance of sleep for another hour. So I gulped it in two sittings, too fast to truly enjoy the nuances. I am already taking a second run at it, from the beginning, savoring every heartbreakingly witty word.

I know I have already raved about French plenty since picking up In The Woods; that I have told you about her prose, which is so sinfully rich that spending time with it seems nigh-adulterous. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that French’s grip on human nature is so sure it’s almost frightening. I may even have admitted to sending her, via her publisher, a whimpering little fan note mentioning that I might die, OMG srsly die I tellya, if she didn’t start cranking out four books a year.

What can I tell you about Faithful Place without spoiling it? All three books absolutely stand alone, first. So jump ahead, if you want, and read this one. I can mention that like a lot of readers, I thought this third novel would be about Sam, the third major player in the In The Woods triangle. Instead, the POV character is Frank, the Undercover guy from The Likeness. A week ago, I was invested in getting a Sam book. Now I don’t even care.

The protagonists of the first two books were fully realized characters, well developed, scarily easy to relate to. As for relating to Frank… well! He’s a child of the Eighties who ran away from a wretched home as soon as he was legally able. He left on foot, carrying only a small bag of clothes and a big sack of child-of-alcoholic issues. He meant to bring a girl named Rosie, too, but she skipped out on him–or so he thought. He left anyway, built a life entirely apart from his origins, and now Rosie’s suitcase has turned up, stuffed up a chimney. Yes, this book really is all about baggage. Anyway the discovery sets his current life and his old one to slam-dancing, and he has no idea how to fit his family into the world he’s been living in for twenty-two years.

There’s one moment, I won’t tell you, but in it Frank realizes something central to his existence–something he had under control, you understand–is not even remotely what he thought it was, and–Oh! It is a wholly individual moment, specific to his family dilemma. I am not sure I’ve ever understood a fictional character’s feelings so well.

I tend to favor beautifully written mysteries that are as much character studies as they are puzzles. In French’s first books, the identity of the killer, while not entirely a side issue, is distinctly less compelling than the detective’s journey. In Faithful Place, French integrates the personal and the homicidal in ways that had me second guessing myself over and over again. I was always pulling for Frank, but when the truth came out, I have to say I really got where the killer was coming from.

This is, simply put, a terrific book.

Response to Bits, bobs, book review: Faithful Place, by Tana French

  1. ooh, another one I want to read. I agree with all you have said about Tana French, lovely, compelling writing. maybe I can borrow it when you are ready to let it leave your appreciating hands.

  2. I was momentarily ambivalent about IN THE WOODS: now I'm so mad in love with it, and French! I'll totally loan you the book once I've gotten K to read it.