My rating: 5 stars out of 5. This is my review of The Trepasser by Tana French.
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Viking; First Printing edition (October 4, 2016)
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
I’m a huge fan of the crime novels by Irish writer Tana French. Her most recent novel, published this year, is The Trespasser, and it did not disappoint. French sets all six of her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries in and around Dublin, Ireland, and some of the same detectives appear in more than one book. Yes, these six novels are all part of a series, but you can certainly read them independently, and in any order.
Having read all six of Tana French’s mysteries, my two favorites are the ones that creeped me out the most: the first in the series, In the Woods and the fourth, Broken Harbor. My least favorite is The Secret Place, which seemed to get bogged down in the psychological gymnastics of teenage girls in an Irish boarding school—I had a hard time identifying with the characters and their seemingly petty burdens. But other than The Secret Place, I’ve loved all of French’s mysteries, including her recently published The Trespasser.
What makes Tana French’s work so readable? First, French is a master at the art of writing beautiful, vivid, and perfectly timed prose, whether it’s describing a street of empty houses, a character stepping into a pub, or the uneasy paranoia of a narrating detective. I’ve seen French’s mysteries referred to as literary fiction, and I think that’s a fair description. I’m amazed at how well French gives each of her detective narrators their own distinctive “voice” in her novels, with his or her own particular slang, rhythm, syntax, and sense of sarcasm, hunger or humor. Here’s the opening paragraph of The Trespasser, which I find perfect in every way:
My ma used to tell me stories about my da. The first one I remember, he was an Egyptian prince who wanted to marry her and stay in Ireland forever, only his family made him go home to marry an Arabian princess. She told a good story, my ma. Amethyst rings on his long fingers, the two of them dancing under turning lights, his smell like spices and pine. Me, spreadeagled under my bedsheet, coated in sweat like I’d been dipped – it was winter, but the Corpo set the heating for the whole block of flats, and the windows on the high floors didn’t open – I crammed that story into me as deep as I could, and kept it there. I was only little. That story held my chin high for years, till I was eight and told it to my best friend Lisa, who broke her shite laughing.
Secondly, French knows how to spin a tale with drama, tension and suspense, not only as to the crime being solved, but also about the narrator detective who is solving the crime. French’s novels, all written in the first person, are strongly character driven, with plenty of psychological manipulations and second-guessing, bringing the reader right into the narrator’s head. To me, it’s so cool to watch the plot unfold through the eyes of the narrator, while also sensing that the narrator herself may actually be biased, irrational, or subconsciously fooling herself, and therefore the reader. French masterfully hints at the fears and frustrations of the narrator’s present and past life, and often weaves those in with the victim’s history and family.
Thirdly, common in all of French’s novels is the fascinating psychological drama, games and manipulations going on between a few people within a closely-knit group, whether roommates sharing an old farmhouse, a detective’s dysfunctional family living in the slums, or the force members that gather every day in the murder squad room. French’s readers get to be that fly on the wall, seeing and hearing intimate conversations often fraught with tension, betrayal, love, and hate. And you’ll find that that French’s books are loaded with dialogue that’s sharp and cracks with energy.
Fourthly, the circumstances of the crimes themselves are unique and yet realistic enough that the reader isn’t put off by anything too bizarre or violent. I’ve never cared for magic or the supernatural in the fiction I read, and thankfully French’s books have none. Instead, the author deftly lays thin veils of creepiness over the reader, not unlike the chilly fog and misty Irish rains that drizzle on crime scenes and the troubled detectives investigating those crimes. Perhaps because the crimes are more realistic, they are more relatable, and thus even scarier.
What stands out to me in The Trespasser? I like that this mystery is narrated by a beautiful, tall, independent and tough-as-nails woman protagonist, Detective Antoinette Conway. Antoinette has to deal with being the outsider on the Dublin Murder Squad, not only because she’s a newbie, but also because she’s a woman, brown-skinned, and perhaps too because she has a big chip on her shoulder. I also appreciate the refreshing humor in this book: Antoinette can be whip-smart cynical, her observations hilarious.
Before writing the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, Tana French trained as a professional actor in theater, film, and voice over. Flowing dialogue and vivid character development in French’s novels are a testament to the author’s drama background. Every thought, expression, retort, and action seem loaded with relentless tension, moving the story and characters forward from the first page to the last.
I won’t go on, except to say that if you enjoy psychological mysteries and thrillers, then you can’t go wrong reading some of Tana French’s murder mysteries. I’m awarding The Trespasser by Tana French five stars out of five. If you’re wondering, I also would award five stars out of five to all of the other Dublin Murder Squad novels, except for The Secret Place, which deserves only three stars.
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