Last week, I finished Faithful Place: A Novel by Tana French. On the strength of her two previous books (The Likeness: A Novel and In the Woods), I preordered the book so I’d have it as soon as I could after publication. Tana French’s novels are literary mysteries set in Dublin. I love mysteries, but I demand they be well-written, so I was delighted to discover French last year. In some ways, In the Woods was my favorite – it had so many layers – but the ending was unsatisfying. I was intrigued by the story and characters in The Likeness, especially the cadre of university outcasts, but the premise was so outlandish, the book stretched credibility.
French has certainly learned from her prior work. Faithful Place is compact, efficient, and well-written, not to mention compelling and fast-paced. In it, Frank Mackey, the undercover who orchestrated Cassie Maddox’s operation in The Likeness, confronts the truth that his first love, Rose, did not leave him on the eve of their planned escape from Faithful Place to London, but was instead murdered. Twenty-two years after that night, Frank returns to the neighborhood of his youth to try to understand what happened to Rose and find out who killed her. Officially, Frank is not on the case, and he butts heads with Scorcher, who is the detective in charge. He also is mistrusted by the neighborhood, many of whom think he himself killed Rose.
As Frank investigates Rose’s death, his past is uncovered, and it is sad and horrifying. At the same time, I wondered if he could really stay away from his family for almost two decades. Faithful Place is a neighborhood in Dublin, not another town in Ireland, not another country. While he had encountered his younger sister Jackie during an earlier investigation and reestablished ties with her, Frank had three other siblings, nieces, nephews. Would it really be possible to make such a break?
Besides this nagging issue, I really did like the novel. I found myself thinking in Irish slang! When I began the book, I was concerned – Frank was a typical, alpha male prick, rustling feathers because he could get away with it. He quickly became more likable – perhaps that persona was disrupted when he learned that Rose was dead, hadn’t left him. It initiated a process of reimagining his history.