Review published on August 16, 2016.
Tana French’s Dublin murder squad series exploded into the crime fiction scene in 2007, and did a virtual clean sweep of the big debut novel awards that year; Barry, Anthony, Edgar, Macavity. Since then, French and her Dublin detectives have won a smattering of new awards and an army of admirers. Fans now await her new releases with the kind of yearning usually reserved by children for Christmas. ‘The Trespasser’ is the sixth in the series’ noble line, and surely worth the wait.
Antoinette Conway, the punchy but isolated detective from ‘The Secret Place,’ is handed a case that has ‘open and shut’ written all over it. A beautiful blonde is found dead at her home, apparently felled by a jilted date. Nevertheless, there is doubt. It’s not much doubt, but in the right hands it could look ‘reasonable;’ so Conway and partner Moran set about following leads, pulling threads, and inviting the ire of a squad that wants this easy win closed off immediately.
Old, outdated wisdom once said that to write mysteries, you get the ending first and work backwards. French is part of a new and brilliant breed that gets the characters first, and works forwards. Everything in ‘The Trespasser’ stems from the rich, flawed, beautiful and complex characters who walk the streets of French’s Dublin. Chief among them here is Conway. Under constant psychological attack from a squad that apparently wants her gone, Conway takes the ‘feisty’ cliche, chews it up and spits it in the face of a world that’s against her. Go searching for the weak and feeble woman that should lurk beneath the ferocious front – you’ll not find it. Conway is the author of her own destiny and is strong enough to shape it, but her senses have been clouded by the cordite that fills the squad room. Mixed-race and torn between the dream of the murder squad and the reality, she also has identity and belonging issues, and with a knowing namecheck of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ French lets us know it’s no coincidence that her heroine’s name is a single letter away from ‘Antoinette Cosway.’
Conway is but one star in this firmament. Breslin is a polished, experienced and paternalistic copper, and serves as the book’s antagonist. Again, it’s a complex set-up that French manages masterfully. Does Breslin’s arm around the shoulder precede a dagger in the back? Is he loyal to the men of his squad or the law they represent? French eschews ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies,’ she’s far too smart for that. ‘The Trespasser’ swims in an ocean of nuance. During one passage, we root for Conway, striding into the oppressive squad room with metaphorical middle fingers raised like she has a sai in each hand. Later on, she seems merely paranoid; she is lost lost and cursing at shadows. French never gives us the comfort of certainty. Though her technical research is evident, the true authenticity comes with uncertainty. Sometimes in life we just don’t know the truth.
French and ‘The Trespasser’ merit all the praise we can heap on them. Comparisons with Denise Mina are well-founded, and the hot anticipation of fans is well-deserved. If 2016 has a better crime thriller to offer, I’ve not yet read it.
– Mike Stafford
The Trespasser by Tana French, published by Hodder & Stoughton on 22 September, 2016 in hardback at £16.99
AMR: Clare Mackintosh and Sheila A. Grant in our Author meets Reviewer series