Until I’d navigated the shoals of Irish teen speak in Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, I might have been dismissive of the enormous skill it takes to recreate the speech patterns of a dozen teens. By now I am inoculated against scorn for the abbreviations and slangerizing of words that compose ordinary conversation, and parse much more quickly now.
Tana French’s sleight of hand places in parallel the confusing world of just-awakening teens alongside squads of police learning their craft in the harsh and unforgiving world of crime. By juxtaposing the two groups, we see the seeds of the men and women the teens will become.
St. Kilda’s Girl School and St. Colm’s Boy’s School are just across the way from one another, and the boarders of each mix at dances or in the town shopping arcade called the “Court.” They try on their adult selves like clothes at the thrift shop—delighting and discarding with snide remarks and zings of pleasure.
French slowly unfurls her story, showing us how teens so close to the right answer in the test that is life can actually get the wrong result. It is agonizing to share in the desperation of lovely, lonely girls seeking a closeness together they all feel but cannot preserve. French creates marvelously complex and fully realized girls, boys, cops, but one stands out: Holly Mackey, daughter of Frank Mackey, the detective introduced in Faithful Place. Holly is sixteen with a mind like a steel trap. One can’t wait to see what she will become.
Two detectives, Antoinette Conway of the Murder Squad and Stephen Moran of Cold Cases, work together for a day and a night on the year-old death of one of the Colm boys. Loners both, they approach the case from different directions. Antoinette takes a flashy MG to the tony school to “Get the respect.” Stephen would prefer to drive “an old Polo, too many miles, too many layers of paint not quite hiding the dings. You come in playing low man on the totem, you get people off guard.” Antoinette faces criticism and office taunts straight on, with hostility. Stephen instead sidesteps the sarcasm and, joshing back, lowers the tension while awaiting his moment to outshine the club boys.
Detective Frank Mackey, both admired as well as feared, makes an appearance during the investigation and suggests the younger cops “go along [with their lesser colleagues] to get along.” Both reject his advice and earn his grudging respect. This may be French’s point after all: one must cleave to the notion there is something you care about more than the adulation of crowds. There may not be as much wisdom as needed in crowds after all.
French involves us completely with the subterfuges of the young folk in the book. We know how teens are: smart, secretive, seductive in what they choose to share. But we also know they are not as clever as they think they are, and they cannot outrun the ghost of youth.
I listened to the audio of this book alongside the paper copy. Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson alternated reading and though the narrative shifted from the year-old lead-up to the murder and the current investigation, points of view were capably interleaved. I was rapt for the duration of this stellar mystery.
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