Monday, November 26, 2012

A different type of Dublin review

We've all been rather busy in recent times and the blog has been looking sparse but in a renewed effort to bring you something a little bit different, I wanted to continue my series of books about Dublin.

With the recent Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards in mind, I want to highlight the novels of Tana French.  She's the author of four novels and I have read them all this year.  While not strictly sequels, there is a common theme of a fictional "murder squad" of Gardaí based in Dublin Castle.  A minor character from one book might be the main character in the next, and so on.  So yes, they're crime stories and they're all set in or around Dublin.  Sometimes she renames a suburb but to me it's always pretty obvious where the basis in reality lies.  I'll do my best to avoid spoilers and stick to the information that's on the blurbs.  All of her novels are easily available in paper and digital formats.

Her four novels in reading order are In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place and Broken Harbour.  Each follows a murder investigation, usually told in first person narrative.  By chance, I read Faithful Place first, and it did not particular harm to the plots of the first two books.  I absolutely loved it and couldn't put it down.  It centers on a hard undercover cop, Frank Mackey, and his quest to discover what happened his teenaged girlfriend who disappeared the night she was to run away with him.  This book is set in and around the Liberties.  I felt it was a wonderful evocation of a real community with fully rounded characters and a compulsive plot that kept me reading well past lights out every night.

In a similar vein, The Likeness was really hard to put down.  The plot of this requires a small suspension of belief but it's well worth it.  Again told in first person narrative, it really reminded me of Donna Tartt's The Secret History for its collection of quirky college students interdependent on each other and heady portrayal of that first taste of adult independent life.

French's first novel, which won several awards, In the Woods cleverly links a cold case murder with an ongoing investigation.  The main character has a major conflict of interests with both the case and his partner leading to a complex and not entirely satisfying resolution, which made it all the more realistic for me.  It features the main character from The Likeness in a best supporting role as the partner.

Ironically, given its recent win at the book awards, I think Broken Harbour is the weakest of French's novels, but it's possibly because I just plain didn't like the main character.  Even that impresses me: often when I don't feel empathy for a main character, I stop reading a book, but I read this one straight through because I *had* to find out what happened.

A recent article with French tells me she is working on a fifth Murder Squad book and I'll be looking out for that next year.


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