Mystery Review: The Trespasser, Tana French (2016)


Anyone who turns herself into Barbie because that’s the only way she feels worthwhile needs a kick up the hole, but someone who does it for a revenge mission deserves a few points for determination. - Tana French, The Trespasser

The Trespasser was my introduction to Tana French, and is, I think, the strongest book she's written to date. To my mind, it has the best combination of French's ability to understand character, her exquisite use of language, and her (growing) ability to write a properly twisty plot, with just the right amount of red herrings and clues sprinkled throughout.


Narrated by Antoinette Conway, a detective with a (well-earned) Grand Canyon-sized chip in her shoulder, the story picks up with Conway and her new-ish partner, Stephen Moran - both last seen in The Secret Place - finishing up a night shift. They've been struggling to get respect as members of the Squad, and Conway has been contemplating quitting. That morning though, things seem to change: just as they are about to leave, O'Kelly, the gaffer (head of the unit), drops a case on their desk. Someone has phoned in a tip, and a woman was found dead at a house in the starting-to-be-hip-neighborhood of Stoneybatter. They have to include the smarmy Detective Breslin as part of the team, but that's a small price to pay, as Conway knows: "One [case] straight from the gaffer would mean me and Steve have finally, finally, worked our way clear of the losers’ corner of the playground: we’re in."


The victim, Aislinn Murray, is a pretty, thin, generic blonde, and she was killed while preparing a romantic dinner for two, with no sign of her date in sight. The case seems like it should be a slam dunk lovers' quarrel when the detectives hunt down the man she was supposed to be dining with, but there are some aspects of the crime scene and Aislinn's life that keep Conway and Moran wondering if the answer is less straightforward.


For example: The house has been wiped down - perhaps too thoroughly? Conway remembers Aislinn's face from somewhere - but where? Aislinn's father disappeared many years ago - could her murder be connected? And Aislinn's best friend, Lucy, throws out a hint that Aislinn might have been the kind of person who dated married men, as well as her current boyfriend - did that get her into trouble?


There are extremely well-placed feints and possible misdirects along the way: Was Aislinn Murray dating a gangster? Are Breslin and/or his partner, McCann, crooked cops? Why is there a journalist with a vendetta against Conway? Who is the man who keeps showing up at the top of Conway's street? And who on the Squad is behind the harassment of Conway - and could it include Moran?


Answering all these questions, and more, French hurtles us towards the end, subverting expectations and cleverly misdirecting us at every turning point. Again, the Conway and Moran partnership is a delight to read about - they remain my favorite of French's partner duos.


I thought this book was excellent, with my only quibble being that the doubling theme between Conway and Aislinn is played up a little too heavily (I think you'll know the scene that I think is unnecessary when you get there ... but it serves its purpose in driving the plot forward, so I'll forgive it). In summary: 4 1/2 stars, with an honorary Marlowe for Conway.


(Spoiler alert): Great article from BookRiot on Aislinn Murray's character.


Next week, French's latest outing: The Witch Elm. I have Thoughts with a capital T.


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