I first got hooked into Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books because my friend Heather recommended them. I’ve known Heather for over twenty years, when we were both English majors at our small liberal arts college. Now, we are both lapsed literature readers, choosing most of time to read lighter fare but still confident of our ability to parse the heavier stuff.
So when Heather recommends a book, I listen.
I read the first and second books of the series while I mowed the lawn at our old farm. I’d do two hours of laps on my grandfather’s ancient mower, Vulcan, and lose myself in the very real but also slightly-magical, Irish world that she creates.
Since then, I’ve been hooked both by the storytelling and the rich social description that comes into play in each novel.
Treasuring The Trespasser
Now, I’m in the midst of reading what is, I think, the 6th book in the series, and I’m absolutely rapt again. The first few pages (or minutes since I usually listen to these books because I love the readers and the way they do the Irish accents) of each book hook me in because I’m trying to figure out where I know the protagonist from. It’s a structure French uses so well – take a minor character from a previous book and make her/him the main character in the new one. I love that.
Here, the protagonist is Antoinette Conway, a female detective who takes heat and harassment from her fellow male detectives because of her gender. (Her comebacks to their sexist comments are classic.) She and her partner Stephen are trying to solve what – at first blush – seems to be a domestic violence murder. . . but there is – as is always the cash with French – more to the case than meets the eye.
In this book, I’m loving the intensity of the intersquad communication and struggle, and while Conway would be a hard person for me to love in real life, given her brashness and dislike of sentiment, I adore her on the page.
A Writer’s Eye View
In addition to the genius way of linking the book in this sequence without running the risk of a reader growing stale with the same main character, French’s use of class-struggle, gender struggle, and cultural identity are brilliant. She’s light in touch here – grounding these challenges in real people – but the message is still the same: our hierarchies affect all of us.
I also find that French hits an ideal balance of internal reflection within her characters and interaction with other characters. In this book, the communication – both verbal and non – between Antoinette and Stephen is rich and complex, and it leaves you liking both of them and treasuring their friendship as much as, we hope, they do.
In many ways, the murder mysteries here are devices to delve into psychology and struggle – both on a cultural and an individual scale – but they are not perfunctory or under-tended. Instead, they are rich and engaging so that while you’re really rooting for the detectives you are also deeply eager to understand the murders and the motivations for them.
If you’re looking to write genre fiction that holds both a literary tone and a page-turning pace, French’s work is well worth studying.
If you love a fascinating murder mystery, appreciated nuanced, complex characters, appreciate a story that reveals more about the society than just a simple plot, this book is for you.
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