Tana French, In the Woods (2007) and Faithful Place (2010)

With the hope of being efficient with my limited time (uh), I’ll say a word of both Tana French mysteries in the same post. It makes sense because I don’t intend to go into the plots’ details (yes I’m lazy, but considering their success, either you know about it already or you’ll have to get there yourself, which I highly recommend), swallowed them both within a fortnight and found them both equally brilliant.

All I knew from Tana French is that she was supposed to write good, unputdownable thrillers. Lots of praise everywhere, but I hadn’t bothered to investigate. I had simply no other clue when I borrowed Faithful Place at the library. And then of course I got hooked so badly that I asked Mr. S to fetch me another dose (being unable to schlep to the library by myself anymore)

On what planet have I been living the past few years, you’ll wonder? I didn’t even know that she was Irish, that her books were set in Dublin and had a strong link to the 1980s. Truth be told, I had thought her American, and I wouldn’t have consciously chosen a 1980s Irish noir with all the gritty realism it promised (Angela’s Ashes meets Billy Eliott? No thanks).

Where does this alternate reality to Tana French’s books come from? I realize I’ve confused Mystic River by Denis Lehane, with In the woods (shame on me). Three disappearing kids, only one coming back, traumatized but unable to tell about the events, who 20 years later becomes a cop? Is it just me or…?

Anyway, both books kept their promises: unputdownable. And gritty. And realist.

(And probably not the best tourist advertisement to visit Dublin).

(And also not the best public image that the Irish police force would wish to get… with one unresolved crime in one book and so much bickering between services in the other)

(And also not, you should be warned, mysteries adhering to the genre’s conventions — which makes it even better in my mind).

Knowing about the 20 years gap between the first murder in each book and the investigation itself, I’d feared that once again I’d have to put up with a dual plot line, my pet peeve. But French takes no shortcut, plotwise and characterwise. The way she intersects the present time with memories (unreliable by essence) is just great, flawless, an example to all those who resort to abrupt intercut because it is so much easier. I have read both books in translation, so I won’t comment on the writing itself.

Relationships and characters are clearly French’s strengths. I love the way she describes the evolution of both main characters (Rob from In the woods spiralling into self-destruction the closer he gets to his personal traumatic memories; Frank from Faithful Places getting reunited with his dysfunctional family even though he’d sworn he’d never get there again). People aren’t clichés or black-and-white and there’s no hero. Murder takes a back seat compared to people: French is more interested in showing the effects a crime has on people sooner or later on than on the resolution itself (a point that may leave some readers frustrated). A sort of anti-Agatha Christie of sorts.

Now that I’m officially a fan, I’ll probably read all Tana French’s remaining mysteries, but next time I’ll try to get a copy in English to get a better feeling of her writing.

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7 thoughts on “Tana French, In the Woods (2007) and Faithful Place (2010)

  1. You have yet to read my favourite, the second in the series, ‘The Likeness’. It has a University setting which is always going to attract me. Reading them out of order have you realised yet what the link between them is? You need to read them as she publishes them to pick up on it, I think.

  2. I’ve read all her books and think she’s a great storyteller! Like Alex I have to say The Likeness is my favorite too! I was just looking to see if she has a new book on the horizon yet…but nothing is listed… Hopefully soon.

  3. Pingback: Tana French Overload | Smithereens

  4. Pingback: Six Degrees of Separation: August | Smithereens

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