Review #37: Faithful Place by Tana French

Yet another Tana French book…I’m addicted!

So I was actually kind of disappointed by this one at first, but now that I’ve slept on it I’ve decided that I do like it a lot. It’s just different from the other books in the series.

Frank Mackey, an undercover cop, hasn’t seen his family in 20-something years. He maintains some contact with his younger sister, Jacky, but otherwise hasn’t returned home since he left as a teenager. When he gets a call that someone has found the suitcase of his ex-girlfriend, Rosie, who was supposed to run away with him but never showed up, hidden in an abandoned old house in his neighborhood, he must return home to his family and discover what really happened to the love of his life.

I think my biggest problem with this book, initially, was that as a mystery, it didn’t hold up for me. One of my favorite things about Tana French is that her mysteries are twisty and exciting and truly shocking. The plot here was kind of weak, and although it was suspenseful in the beginning (mostly because I assumed it would be similar to the other books) it lost momentum fairly quickly. The ending was completely predictable (I figured out the ending–or at least, the basics of it–a quarter of the way through). So when I finished it, I was disappointed.

Taken on its own, though, this book is stunning. It’s a love story more than a mystery, I think, and it would have worked better as a stand-alone novel rather than one that’s part of a series–for me, at least, it suffers in comparison to the other books because I had certain expectations going in. This is a mystery, of course, but that aspect of the plot takes a backseat to other, more important themes. So in a way, I don’t think it really belongs in this series because it’s tonally very different from the others. Part of this is probably because Frank is an undercover cop, and so is somewhat removed from the investigation, whereas in the other books, the protagonists are immersed in the action of the actual mystery. Frank is more a victim than an investigator here, and so thematically, this book is very different–it’s about loss and love and the effects of death on those that are left behind.

Anyway, French does some of her best-ever character work here. Frank is broken and wounded and desperate, and I was completely sucked into his psyche and his emotions. His love for Rosie–even after twenty years–is beautiful and raw and so powerful that it really transcends everything else in the narrative. The cast of supporting characters are, as always, incredibly well-rounded and vivid. I love that French explores different socio-economic backgrounds in each of her books–in this one, the characters are definitely blue-collar, and their language and attitudes reflect that. This book, more than the others in the series, also touches on the history of Ireland (in terms of their relationship with England, especially), which I appreciated and thought added an interesting dimension to the story (and helped me–someone who knows very little about that conflict–contextualize some of the characters’ behaviors and beliefs).

Overall, this is a very good book. In a lot of ways I actually like it more than the others in the series. I think, though, if you’re going to read it, don’t go into it expecting the same heart-pounding, page-turning, “what-the-fuck” reaction that you get from the other books. It’s lovely and emotionally gripping in its own way.

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