Faithful Place

faithful placeI read Tana French’s first novel of Dublin’s Murder Squad, In the Woods, two years ago. Her novels aren’t a series, but they’re linked: a character from In the Woods, Cassie Maddox, is the point-of-view character in her second novel, The Likeness, and a character from The Likeness, Frank Mackey, takes over the narration in her third novel, Faithful Place. This connection through characters gives the books some continuity even though they’re not otherwise linked, and we get all the benefits of stand-alone mysteries and many of the benefits of a series as well. French’s mysteries are terrific: well-written, with plots that are interesting but not over-elaborate. But the best thing about them is the characterization. She has a great deal of insight into human relationships, and the ways in which they crack and fall apart under pressure; this is really what drives her novels and makes them gripping to read. Faithful Place was no exception, and indeed maybe the best one I’ve read so far.

19-year-old Frank Mackey was planning to leave Dublin with Rosie Daly. They were deeply in love, at escape velocity, ready to leave their dysfunctional families and the prison that was their part of the city: Faithful Place, in the Liberties. But on that dark night, Rosie never showed up at the abandoned house where they were supposed to meet. Frank found a note she’d left, saying she couldn’t abandon her family, and he left for England alone with a broken heart.

Two decades later, Frank is in the undercover squad, divorced, with a small daughter, Holly. He’s never looked back to his past, and he’s not in touch with his family; he has enough trouble navigating the tricky shoals of custody. But a call from his sister shatters that fragile peace. In that abandoned house, someone has found a suitcase, with Rosie Daly’s clothes, birth certificate, and the ferry tickets she was supposed to use to go to England with Frank. For the first time in twenty years, Frank has to return to Faithful Place, to find out what really happened to Rosie Daly — and what happened to the family that made him what he is.

This is a tricky kind of murder mystery to write: the cold case. Tana French does it perfectly, with a mix of Frank’s memories about the past — about Rosie, especially, to help us understand what a lively, vibrant, sexy, sweet girl she was — and scenes from the present, to help us see what both Frank and Faithful Place have twisted into over time. Frank’s family is a horror of abuse and lies and unchecked alcoholism and bigotry and manipulation: he has protected his daughter from ever meeting them, and when he discovers that his ex-wife thought Holly had “a right” to know the Mackeys, his fury is so towering that we begin to understand his fierce desire to escape with Rosie as a teenager.

One of the questions this novel addresses is whether anyone can change over time. The past is brought up so forcefully to Frank that he almost can’t acknowledge the possibility that Faithful Place could change. He sees it as a time capsule, though he has changed a great deal during his time away. But the place and its inhabitants drag on him, too, and he finds himself lying and manipulating, drinking and shouting, when he spends too much time there. How can he act as an agent of the law, when he’s so close to the case himself? How can he work for the police, when no one in Faithful Place trusts the police? Does he really trust the police himself (and is that why he went into undercover work)? You can see why I like French’s mysteries: they are complicated and real. Even Frank’s ex-wife is a real character instead of a caricature, wary and distanced but still caring. And I ought to say that, while this plot sounds (and often is) quite grim, the book is far from humorless. Frank has a sense of humor and perspective on himself and his situation that makes him wryly attractive and intelligent — much appreciated in this world of deeply depressed detectives.

This is my third Tana French mystery and my favorite so far (despite having thoroughly enjoyed the first two.) I can’t wait to read Broken Harbor. Have you read her work? What do you think?

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17 Responses to Faithful Place

  1. Alex says:

    I love French’s work and think she gets better with each novel. Just wait until you reach number five, ‘The Secret Place’, and get to know Frank’s daughter even better. I see that number six is advertised for next August. I wonder if the library would take a reservation now?

  2. The only books of French’s that I haven’t read are Broken Harbour and The Secret Place. I can safely say that Faithful Place has been my favourite so far. It had a lovely sense of melancholy to it.

    • Jenny says:

      I really enjoyed the rhythm of Faithful Place. I don’t always think that books that take place in two times are successful, but this one was — the past and the present were equally vivid and I enjoyed it tremendously.

  3. aparatchick says:

    I’ve read all of her books. She’s tremendously talented, and I think Faithful Place is her best. I read it when it was first published (five years ago – how times flies!) and of all her work, it’s the one that has stayed in my mind. I shudder just thinking about Frank’s mother……

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, that whole family! And the ending was just perfect. I thought the whole book was so well done. I agree with you that French is very talented, particularly at damaged relationships.

  4. hlmorris85 says:

    Tana French is so fantastic. I don’t even like Frank as a character all that much but I loved this book. Broken Harbor, though. …I think Broken Harbor is still my favorite of the 5. You are in for a treat!

    • Jenny says:

      I really do like Frank as a character. He was much less obnoxious than I expected him to be from The Likeness, and I grew to appreciate him more, the more I read about his past. So much insight! And I’m looking forward very much to Broken Harbor.

  5. Deb says:

    I’ve read them all. THE LIKENESS is my absolute favorite with BROKEN HARBOR (which is heartbreaking) a close second. I found the most recent, THE SECRET PLACE, to be part of that “teenage girls do awful things” trend–it’s still a good book, but I hope her next one returns to putting adults front and center.

    • Jenny says:

      I like the way she links her books without having one detective in all of them. It gives her room to do different things with different books — she doesn’t have to repeat a trick. I’m looking forward to Broken Harbor.

  6. Rohan Maitzen says:

    I’ve read them all too; I agree with those (including you, so far!), who like Faithful Place best. I thought the interrelationship between past and present was really well handled, and the sense of place and of its culture was really strongly conveyed as well as tied to the crime. I thought The Secret Place dragged on a bit: I hope she doesn’t reach the point in her success that she doesn’t get any editing (which is what I worry has happened to Elizabeth George).

    • Jenny says:

      I thought the sense of place and culture in Faithful Place was marvelous — all wound up with family dynamics, as it would be. I agree with you in fervently hoping she continues to get some editing! I think Stephen King, a favorite of mine, probably took the reins a bit too much somewhere in his career. It can be dreadful for an author.

  7. Lindsey Sparks says:

    I don’t read a lot of mysteries but I love Tana French. Do you (or any of the other commenters!) have any suggestions for similar authors? I do enjoy older mysteries like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as well, but have a hard time choosing from contemporary mysteries. There are so many! I like that French’s story have a good mystery but are still well written and character focused. She’s also great with setting and atmosphere.

    • Jenny says:

      Let’s see: I am a huge fan of Laurie King’s Russell/ Holmes mysteries (which are written by a contemporary author but don’t have a contemporary setting.) I really like Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries. I am a substantial but lesser fan of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series; they’re not perfect but they’re pretty good. Do you read spy novels? I have some good recommendations for those as well.

      • Lindsey says:

        Thank you for the suggestions! I will try those out. I haven’t read many spy novels but did enjoy the Expats.

  8. Anne Simonot says:

    I think The Likeness is my favourite, but Faithful Place is a close second. What I like about French is how each of her books, while loosely connected, are also so different from each other.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, exactly — by the setting (Ireland) and by the linked characters. I think that makes the connections satisfying, but loose enough that each mystery can be completely different.

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