Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6) by Tana French

This novel in the Tana French series about Irish murder detective Antoinette Conway is universally loved and considered among her best in a long line of terrific mystery novels. Why? There is little action in this novel. It is a novel of psychologies and pathologies.

The writing brings us deeply into the internal politics of a murder squad and expresses the difficulty of a woman operating in a rough environment hung with grisly soul-destroying murders. The male camaraderie inside the squad means that little concession is made for women with different histories, priorities, manners, and habits. Other women detectives Antoinette had known didn’t want to fight the scum-stain perps outside and their own colleagues inside. Antoinette is in the middle of making that very decision for herself during the period of the novel.

Antoinette is driven and bright, but she also has a chip on her shoulder that may lead her to attribute motives to colleagues inappropriately. Certainly she has been hazed by older detectives, so she has some cause for paranoia, but not everyone wants her to fail. In this novel she is chosen along with Stephen, a man everyone likes, to handle a case that looks straightforward…and turns out anything but.

French does the thought processes and conversation and hidden meanings so well that even from this distance we feel the cut of the sly put-downs and deflections, and the terror of facing very experienced actors in the interview rooms. The older male detectives in this novel reveal that they could care less why a suspect might commit a crime, and are just happy to put someone down for the crime if it increases their solve-rate, whether or not it makes perfect sense.

Antoinette pursues the psychological in all her interviews. Cops conducting interviews must mask their feelings and intentions and the suspect must survive insinuation or barrage on their most closely held secrets. It is hurtful on both sides. One can only be steeped in slime for so long before it feels like it covers everything.

It’s French’s language that is so entrancing: her fresh insults and filthy descriptions of perps and coworkers stun us into laughter, making the old story of murder feel new. She also leads us astray several times, mentioning red herrings that we hang onto long past the time we should have jettisoned them.

Antoinette is able to twist us around her finger because we trust her vision. She can be cruel, dismissive, and suspicious but she goes after bad guys like a rottweiler. We'd want her on our side, but we wouldn't want her suspecting us of doing wrong. Readers convince themselves she is the honest and upstanding cop, unwilling to close ranks with male colleagues she doesn’t trust even as we begin to wonder if she isn’t being unreasonable. How can one person have so much going on inside? French almost loses our sympathy for Antoinette with her anger and admissions of her self-deceptions.

In this case, a young woman Aislinn has a makeover into a slim, slick magazine image of herself and ends up dead. The case has the appearance of an off-the-shelf “domestic.” Antoinette and Stephen initially feel disrespected when they are specifically chosen for the assignment, but their wide-open instincts turn up pieces that do not fit in a point-and-solve case.

One piece of the story that left me feeling unsure was the thread that involved Antoinette’s father. A big piece of Antoinette’s identity involves her dark (what used to be called swarthy) skin, presumably from her father’s side, and the notion of Antoinette as fatherless child who struggled with belonging.

Her father appears in this novel, but I got little notion of him as non-Irish descent. We are treated to his clothes, but get cursory treatment of him as a person. French clearly left this thread for another day, but why introduce him at all? And why doesn’t the mere sight of him inspire a quenchless curiosity in Antoinette? He clearly wants to make contact, though in a queer and underhanded way. Is he a spook? Will French take Antoinette on a wider world tour in future novels and expand her reach into international intrigue? Is he the trespasser of the title?

I listened to the Penguin Audio production of this book, read by Hilda Fay. The Irish accents are the beauty of the listening experience, and I wouldn't have wanted to miss them. The fresh insults Antoinette thinks up to describe a person she disdains can be particularly toothsome in Irish brogue. And Fay does Breslin's greasy speaking style to perfection. Highly recommended.

Here is an October 3, 2016 review of French's work published in the New Yorker by Laura Miller, books and culture columnist for the online magazine Slate. Below is an interview with Tana French after her win for the Ireland's AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year for her outstanding novel of crime and social commentary Broken Harbor.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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