Author Tana French has apparently lived an interesting life. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, Malawi and the U.S. and currently resides in Dublin. Faithful Place is her third novel, following the first titled In the Woods , winner of the Edgar, Barry, Macavity and Anthony Awards, and a second titled The Likeness. Faithful Place is the first this writer has read and one that The New York Times review calls “her best by a long shot.” Amazon made it one of the Best Books of the Month for July 2010.
The central character, Frank Mackey, works for the Undercover Squad and apparently had a role in her previous book. Faithful Place is a street in the Liberties or inner city of Dublin where Frank grew up, referring to it as “schizoid.” To Frank, it is far from home sweet home and he has kept his distance for 22 years to avoid his family: father who’s a drunk, mother who’s a drama queen, brothers Shay and Kevin and sisters Carmel and Jackie born “in the land of the contraband condom.” Jackie is the one who keeps him in touch. During those absent years, he became a detective, a husband, a father, and a divorcé.
In 1985, he and his girlfriend Rosie Daly had planned to run away to England. When she didn’t show, he took off anyway, assuming that his dysfunctional family had led to Rosie’s change of heart. That’s where the whodunit begins. Frank is pulled back to the neighborhood by the discovery of Rosie’s suitcase in an abandoned building. Not to give away the plot, there will eventually be the mystery of two dead bodies to solve. In tracking down the guilty party, Frank revisits his boyhood years and the people who once lived and some who still live on Faithful Place. Although a whodunit is the thread of the book, the author devotes more of the 400 pages to characters and events of the past. Yes, it is a crime novel but not what you would call an action-packed thriller. You do get sibling rivalry and confrontations between Frank and the Murder Squad head, Scorcher. You also meet one of his new squad members, a likeable Stephen Moran.
What keeps the book engaging are French’s touches of sarcasm and humor throughout. To give you an idea, Frank describes his apartment block as “built in the nineties by, apparently, David Lynch.” He says of his ma, had she known he was getting married, she would have “bought us a lovely floral living-room suite and been outraged if we took the plastic off the cushions.” Referring to a dog named Rambo, French writes that he was “some kind of terrier-based mutt that weighed about five pounds soaking wet. His name had given him a Napoleon complex, complete with territorial issues.” Wherever that glibness comes from, possibly the author’s training as an actor, it definitely adds another dimension to the usual whodunit and ultimately makes Faithful Place an entertaining read.
Tana French, Faithful Place , Viking
Janet Maslin, www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/books/12book.html, The New York Times