“Faithful Place” by Tana French

Faithful Place by Tana French is her third mystery novel in a series loosely linked by characters. You don’t need to read them in order, but that’s how I’d recommend them. Begun with In the Woods, continued in The Likeness, we get to know Frank Mackey, a detective in undercover from the latter book.

The book starts with his memory of a pivotal life event:

I was nineteen, old enough to take on the world and young enough to be a dozen kinds of stupid, and that night as soon as both my brothers were snoring I slid out of our bedroom with my rucksack on my back and my Docs hanging from one hand. A floorboard creaked and in the girls’ room one of my sisters murmured in her sleep, but I was magic that night, riding high on that surge tide, unstoppable; my parents didn’t even turn over on the pullout bed as I moved through the front room, close enough to touch. The fire had burned down to nothing but a muttering red glow. In the rucksack was everything important I owned: jeans, T-shirts, a secondhand wireless, a hundred quid and my birth cert. That was all you needed to go over to England, back then. Rose had the ferry tickets.

He’s divorced with child, and bitter about custody and his wife’s new boyfriend. But an urgent phone call drags him back to the neighborhood he grew up in, the Faithful Place of the title. As the novel unfolds, Frank’s world gets shaken again and again, and he butts heads with family and police as he tries to figure out who did what, and when.

This book is receiving great reviews (it’s an Amazon Book of the Month and got a starred review at Publisher’s Weekly), and many are claiming it’s better than the second, which most people thought was better than the first, which most people agreed was a thumping good read. My preference may lean toward The Likeness, which I plan to re-read soonish.

French writes a great thriller. Her psychological characterizations are complex, and the characters engaging. I was loath to put down the book, and resented (quietly, most of the time) things that made me do so: kids, husband, work, sleep, food, etc. And French is great at getting me attached to the characters and putting them through emotional wringers. These books make me feel twisty on the inside with some of the things the characters experience and do.

Yet I didn’t find it perfect. The whole divorced-cop thing brought nothing new to that tired character trope. And the mystery wasn’t hard for me to figure out. I suspected the killer early on, and even though I saw attempts at red herrings, they were never red enough to convince me. So I highly recommend it as an entertaining read, but it’s not for me one of the best books, ever.

That said, now that I’m just after finishing this book, I’ve got a hankering to call someone a fecking gobshite, or say “fair play to you” if they do a good job. And I have a strong suspicion that we’ll see more of Stephen Moran in the future from French.

6 Responses to ““Faithful Place” by Tana French”

  1. SFP Says:

    I thought Stephen would be the main character in the next book, just like you, but I’ve since read an interview with French and it’s going to be the other guy (I’ve forgotten his name), Stephen’s boss.

    It’ll be interesting to see how she turns him around and makes him someone we care about.

  2. Steph Says:

    I felt similarly to you about this one. I loved it because it’s Tana French, but I still think that The Likeness is her best book to date. The mystery felt far more conventional and predictable in this one, and while the family and social dynamics in Faithful Place are interesting and quite different from the slice of Irish life explored in her previous novels, I felt I was less invested in Frank than I was with past narrators, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox.

    Also, a friend of mine interviewed French about the star of her next book - I assumed it would be Stephen Moran, but it’s not! Of course, I can’t remember who it is at this point, but I do remember that it isn’t Stephen, though I agree that it seems likely he’ll get his own book one of these days.

    And you really do have to love the way French captures the melodious quality of the Irish dialect!

  3. girldetective Says:

    SFP and Steph, is it Scorcher Kennedy?

  4. Steph Says:

    Yes, it’s Scorcher! I’m still hoping for books on Stephen and Sam!

  5. Kate Says:

    I read this at the beach this year, as did my good friend and mom. My problem was that I was distracted from early on by the fact I knew who the killer was. My mom and friend (who weren’t bothered by this) claim that they think she doesn’t care about the structure of murder novels as much as writing about family dynamics and the (beautiful) descriptions of being young and in love and ready to leave everything. This may be true, but if it’s the case, I sort of wish she wouldn’t write in that genre. The problem is that if I can see the big neon sign flashing over the murderer’s head, I start to lose faith when my sympathetic main character can’t see the same sign. Maybe there are all sorts of reasons for this obtuseness on the part of Frank, but at the same time, he was so willing to believe one person in his life was the killer, I couldn’t believe it took him so long to hone in on the other person who actually was the killer. Finally, we never did find out exactly what happened to Kevin, as I recall. I loved large swaths of this book, and I actually didn’t mind the divorced cop trope because I liked the wife and the daughter (there was a point I was very nervous about the daughter’s safety, though), and the relationships between the three of them. The family was memorable and interesting, and my heart ached for Rose, but I was so distracted by the murder that it interfered with my enjoyment of the book.

  6. girldetective Says:

    Kate, as you can see I had a similar concern about how the mystery wasn’t that mysterious; the killer and motive were pretty clear early on. Also, I’ve noticed that in each of her three books, she’s left a blank, so I have to believe this is deliberate: In the Woods we never find out what happened to the original kids (and this, I think, is why people have a problem with this novel), The Likeness we never find out “Lexie’s” past, and in this one we don’t find out what exactly happened to Kevin. I think in each case, it’s a tantalizing omission, yet one that’s not critical to the arc of the book. I think the mystery and the psychology were more evenly balanced in The Likeness, and the hole in In the Woods was too gaping to feel good about the ending, while the relative obviousness of the villain here was what felt unbalanced.