It’s No Mystery (Just Kidding, It Is)

12 Apr

Well, I’ve been out of pocket for the last few days and I have to say Internet, I missed you. Not only do I feel very behind on my witty web memes and cute cat photos, but I’ve had nary a moment to engage with all my various personal marketing tools. I’ve barely even tweeted!

Unfortunately I wasn’t holed up all weekend because of a good book, but along the way I did happen to read one. So it’s okay, exhale, there’s still a review this week.

Faithful Place is the third in a series by author Tana French that centers on the undercover squad of a police department in Dublin (Ireland, guys). Although I would argue you should read the first two (mostly because Faithful Place was my least favorite), it isn’t necessary: The third book’s protagonist was but a periphery character in No. 2 The Likeness (though if you’re going to read The Likeness, you should read book No. 1, In the Woods, first. Those two are more closely related.)

Anywho, Faithful Place follows Frank Mackey, an undercover detective who hasn’t been to his hometown (ahem, Faithful Place) to see his family in upwards of 20 years, since he ran away from home at 18 or so. He’s drawn back to his old haunt when some locals find a suitcase that once belonged to his childhood sweetheart (with whom he had intended to run away, and who he’s always assumed blew him off at the last minute). What exactly happened to her, and their plans, is the rest of the story, none of which I intend to give away here.

First, the good: Tana French is a great writer. It’s certainly fair to say that In the Woods/The Likeness/Faithful Place are crime novels, but it’s also fair to say there’s a reason none of them appear in mass-market paperback (yet?) The quality of French’s writing is a cut above the James Pattersons of the world (not hating on you James, I’m an Alex Cross fan too) and it’s something of a wonder to me that these books haven’t gotten as much attention as the dragon tattoo series (though I suspect their distinct lack of a tattooed female hacker protagonist has something to do with it).

French’s plots are interesting, and have that fundamental “whodunit” element that makes mystery novels such great reads, but I find her characters even more compelling. While many mystery novels (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown) have incomplete or inconsistent main characters, who take a backseat to the plot, French tends to spend as much time developing her people as she does her story. Since, as a reader, I’m spending most of the book wondering which of these people committed the crime, having fleshed-out characters to consider makes the book that much more suspenseful.

The not so good: As I mentioned before, this was my least favorite of Tana French’s books. Part of the risk of being a “whodunit” writer is the very real possibility that your reader is going to figure out who, in fact, dunit. Though Faithful Place had some interesting twists, by the time I got to the Sixth Sense moment (spoiler: no one sees dead people), I had already figured it out (which isn’t a testament to my unmatchable powers of deduction so much as French’s less-than-stellar attempt to throw the reader off course). In addition, although Faithful Place didn’t suffer for having a main character not really central to the previous two books, I found myself a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a link. (In fairness, I found this to be true even of the first and second books). When you create a cast as compelling as French’s, it’s hard to reconcile the idea of subsequent books being part of the “series” with the fact that there’s little direct connection between them. I’m not saying French should follow her peers in the genre (which is to say, either too much or too little connection…seriously Dan Brown, I lost a lot of respect for Robert Langdon by the fourth beautiful academic in a sweater he boned) but a slightly more noticeable nod to her previous work would have been nice.

THE VERDICT:

If you, like me, have spent even a few days on the kind of paperback you can buy in a supermarket checkout line, then you’ve got nothing to lose by picking up Faithful Place, or its two siblings. None of the books are particularly dense or overly long (though Faithful Place can drag a bit if you’ve figured out the twist) and all three are enjoyable. I would recommend starting from the beginning though (of the series, not the book, though…that too); that way you too can be mildly disappointed but generally pleased (as opposed to just mildly disappointed).

Moreover, I would be very surprised if these books don’t get made into movies sometime in the next few years (hey, if Like Water for Elephants can…) so when that time comes, you’ll be one of those people that can say “I read the book” (read: a snob).

THE FACTS:
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TITLE: Faithful Place
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AUTHOR: Tana French
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PAGES: 400 (in hardcover)
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ALSO WROTE: In the Woods, The Likeness
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SORTA LIKE: The Keep meets Mystic River
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FIRST LINE: “In all your life, only a few moments matter.”

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