Tana French: The Trespasser Saturday, Oct 22 2016 


French’s The Secret Place introduced Stephen Moran as its narrator, the young detective itching to get into Dublin’s Murder Squad, and paired temporarily with the tough Det. Antoinette Conway. He gets his wish months later, only as the youngest and unmarried members of the team, they both get more than their fair share of night shifts. And it’s Conway who’s the narrator as the now-partners are handed a new case to work together in The Trespasser, another strong novel that shows how well French understands human nature.

Their Superintendent is convinced he’s handing the newbies a simple domestic case, easily solved. Pretty, polished and dressed for a date: that’s the impression victim Aislin Murray gives the detectives when her body is found in a pool of blood in her flat, right next to a dining table set for two, complete with candles, uneaten meal in the warming oven.

It appears to be simple, a lover’s quarrel gone bad at first glance, except that Conway is convinced she’s seen the victim before and just can’t place her. Conflicting stories from people who knew Aislinn set off the detectives radar, and further investigation shows that the young woman underwent a remarkable makeover in her appearance and manner.

Rory Fallon has been dating Aislinn, and when he’s put under the glare of being a suspect, he doesn’t redeem himself well, yet Conway isn’t convinced he’s the killer. Not so DI Breslin, the experienced detective assigned to oversee the case with the duo. He presses them hard for an arrest of Fallon, stressing out Conway and getting to Moran. His insistence leads the two to all sorts of wild conspiracy theories that keep them from seeing the truth of the case that lies right in their midst.

Adding to Conway’s stress is the harassment she’s received from her coworkers, including pranks and messing about with her reports and evidence, which doesn’t seem to apply to her male partner. Is she paranoid or is this the height of sexism? And more to the point, can she wait it out or will she crumple and make her colleagues point for them?

This is a power struggle on all fronts, sometimes between Conway and the suspect; at others between Conway and the detective sitting next to her, whether it’s Moran or Breslin. And most of all, it’s a struggle for Conway between the person she is and her urban working-class origins, and the person she wants to be.

An accomplished look inside the psychology of the narrator, and of the far-reaching implications of actions not always understood. Highly recommended.

Tana French: The Secret Place Sunday, Oct 19 2014 

The Secret Place
Auntie M is a huge fan of Tana French’s books, so she was excited to read her newest, The Secret Place. And she’s happy to report it’s another incredible winner. This writer just keeps getting better and better, with complex and compelling plots, believable characters, and that gritty realism that has been her forte` all along.

One of the devices French uses is to bring a previously seen character into the new action, and she does just that in using Det. Frank Mackey (Faithful Place) and his daughter Holly as characters when Det. Stephen Moran, working Cold Cases, gets his chance at a murder case, and what a case it turns out to be.

Moran has been wanting to be part of Dublin’s Murder Squad and his chance appears in the form of Holly Mackey, who shows up at his precinct bearing a clue to the murder the previous year of a male student from the neighboring school of St. Kilda’s, where Holly boards.

The Secret Place is a board at St. Kilda’s where girls can leave notes, postcards and other messages of their secrets, a ventilation board if you will, and is usually a place of gossip and innuendo. This message is designed to bring back the stalled investigation, which has frustrated Detective Antoinette Conway, she of the sharp chin, slick clothes and demeanor to match.

Conway grudgingly allows Moran to accompany her to St. Kilda’s to interview the students. It quickly becomes whittled down to two sets of four friends, one including Holly Mackey. And here Moran gets his chance to shine. Conway interviewed all of these girls during the initial investigation. She allows Moran to play questioner and he lets his chameleon personality loose on each girl, divining which approach will lead to the most usable information.

The tension rises as the two detectives, not friends by any means, testing each other as they go along, throw out different theories and dig deeper and deeper into the lives of eight teenage girls. Who has the most to lose? Who would have the courage to whack a lone male teen over the head and leave him for dead? The dialogue is pure teen and yet they girls remain distinct and different. The two sets of four have completely different bonds, too, which in the end will lead to tragedy.

It is to French’s credit that we hardly realize all of these scenes take place over one tense day. She keeps the reader riveted to the page as the girls secrets are torn loose, with an ending so unexpected you will be as surprised as the girls are to find the real murderer. Just how far will someone go in the name of friendship an loyalty? Highly recommended.