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Mystery Review: Faithful Place, Tana French (2010)

“Someone stuck a suitcase behind a fireplace, twenty-odd years ago,” I said. “It’s hardly the crime of the century." - Tana French, Faithful Place

Faithful Place picks up the story of Undercover Detective Frank Mackey - last seen talking Cassie Maddox into investigating her doppelganger's murder - when he's called back to his childhood home by his family. A suitcase has been found in a nearby abandoned house, and his family suspects that it's connected to the disappearance of then-teengaged Frank's girlfriend Rosie Daley, more than twenty years before.

While Frank initially scoffs at this, the suitcase turns out to be Rosie's. She and Frank planned to run away together, but Rosie didn't turn up the night they were supposed to take the ferry to England. After waiting all night, Frank decides that he's going to leave anyway. He doesn't make it to London, but he abandoned his family that night and remains largely estranged from them.

Frank is quickly brought back into the mad Mackey fold, and when Rosie's body is discovered, Frank decides to investigate - all off the books and under the table, of course. He finds a way to stay close to the investigation by turning a young member of the investigating team, Stephen Moran, into essentially his CI. And when a member of the Mackey family is found dead in the yard of the same house where Rosie's body was found, and Frank's young daughter, Holly, finds critical information that will unmask the killer, Frank needs to move quickly to save what's left of his family.

Faithful Place is absolutely the most solid of French's books that I've reviewed so far in terms of the mystery itself, and is, to my mind, the most satisfying of the three excellent books she'd written up to this point. While she doesn't play completely by genre rules in terms of twists (perhaps refreshingly, as around the 80% mark I was waiting for one last reveal that didn't come, and was surprised by the lack of surprise), it's a serviceable mystery plot - stronger than her others reviewed thus far - and beautifully written.

In this book, French continues to be one of the best stylists in mystery fiction today, although the language, while still clever, is less flowery than some of her other books, befitting Mackey's matter-of-fact nature. He would, one thinks, scorn any dressing up. This book - while dark, as are all of French's books - also had some of the funniest lines of any of her books, mostly from Frank's color commentary (on his daughter's dollhouse, for example: "Holly’s dollhouse is a work of art, a perfect replica of a big Victorian house, complete with tiny overcomplicated furniture and tiny hunting scenes on the walls and tiny servants being socially oppressed," ), and the cracking sharp language of his family and neighbors, like this complaint: “Bring him whatever you want. Just don’t be bringing him any excuse to ring me again. I don’t like gobshites annoying me before I’ve had my cup of tea; banjaxes my bowels.” It's a reread-worthy mystery that doesn't rest on on twists and whodunit.

As is the case in French books, the real story in Faithful Place isn't around the murders, but around the detective's decision during a crisis point. In this book, the crisis is around Frank's decision of what family means, and just how far he'll go to protect those he considers to be family. He made a painful choice once to walk away to save himself, and this book hinges on the question of whether or not he'll choose to walk away from family once again. What, as his father once asked him, is he willing to die for? "If you don’t know that, he said, what are you worth? Nothing. You’re not a man at all."

Frank's grappling with this question - along with his sideways investigation of the two murders under the nose of the self-satisfied Scorcher Kennedy - made for a gripping, sensitive, and thoughtful read that had me up late into the night and up early again the next morning to finish it. I really can't recommend this book highly enough, and if you want to start with one of the best of French's novels, this is it.

Pairs well with a full Sunday roast, nicely seasoned with a robust sprinkling of guilt from your mam, and cap off your evening with a chalky strawberry Angel Delight (remember, it's: "Mammy, not Ma. The state of you. The neighbors’ll think I raised a homeless.")

In summary: 4 1/2 Sherlocks (probably should figure out what my max is here?), and I may just rename my style bonus a French rather than a Tey.

Next week, I dig into the next book in the Murder Squad series, Broken Harbor. I'm hoping I enjoy this one as much!

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