Thursday, October 7, 2010
There are only a few things in life you can take for granted. Death, taxes, the sublime beauty of red wine, and great Tana French novels. At this point, I am asking myself if I would be capable of writing a negative review for Ms. French's work. I don't think so. I have fallen under her spell, so consider yourself warned.
French has an interesting way of structuring her "series". In her first novel "In the Woods", the story is narrated by Rob Ryan, a police detective, with his partner Cassie Maddox playing a strong supporting role. In French's second novel "The Likeness", Cassie is at the center of the action. In "Faithful Place", French's latest, the story revolves around Frank Mackey, Cassie's toughened boss in undercover. Funny, Frank never even really registered on my radar in "The Likeness", so I wasn't all that intrigued by a story about him. Reviews were mixed. I proceeded with caution. Like I had anything to worry about. Mind the drool puddles and you meander through my review.
Frank Mackey has had a rough life, living on the wrong side of the tracks in a blue collar neighborhood in Dublin. He and his four siblings grew up quickly and harshly under the roof of an angry mother and an abusive and alcoholic father, and all dreamed of "getting out". When Frank was 18, he had made plans to run away to London with his high school sweetheart Rosie, but when she failed to show up for their late-night rendezvous, Frank left and never came back. Although he assumed he had been dumped, he never heard what had become of Rosie, her absence overshadowing every facet of his life ever since.
His past comes 'a-calling twenty years later when Rosie's suitcase, filled with her clothes and two train tickets to London, is found hidden in an abandoned apartment in his old neighborhood. He gets sucked back into the mess of his family's dysfunctional mind games, and memories of a his first love and carefree youth when anything was possible. But this isn't just a stroll down memory lane...the underlying darkness present twenty years ago is alive and well today, and reawakens to finish an unsettled score.
My thoughts: I almost hated to use the words "dysfunctional" and "family" in this review, because I am sick to death of reading about it. Nothing, however, is ever passe in the hands of Tana French. She takes a mystery/thriller and makes it fresh and different. She has a keen gift of characterization that is so intense, that her people become your people, and suddenly that age-old, tired family crap feels very very personal.
I like to think of French's stories as having an undertow. You are just out there splashing around, unaware of the turbulence and danger present underwater. Before you know it, it has dragged you under and you never know what hit you. "Faithful Place" is very similar to her first two books in that there is alot of childhood baggage and reflection on buried issues, occurring at the same time as present-day trouble. Thereby creating a mystery thriller with a significant edge over the competition. The emotions and relationships are complex, and sometimes are not resolved by the end of the story. I give French credit for fighting the urge to fall into line with the unmemorable mystery thriller masses.
Frank Mackey was an interesting protagonist. Feisty, a little bit of a rebel, angry, holds a grudge, and far from perfect, he is also wears his emotions on his sleeve and wants to be a better person. I found his efforts at being a good father and protecting his daughter very sweet and kind of attractive. I really liked him (REALLY) despite all his frailties. It could be considered a little bit of a crush. And even though I know how French structures her series, I cast a gooey-eyed glance toward the future and hope I see Frank again.
The mystery was not all that difficult to figure out, and this is probably the biggest flaw in the story. But maybe that wasn't the point. This story was more about damaged youth, with the inevitable "reveal" being more heart-breaking than shocking. This was my least favorite of French's three novels, but please know that I am still very deep in the "love" range of the spectrum.
About the audio production: Simon Vance, someone is threatening your spot on the narrator pedestal, and that is Tim Gerard Reynolds. It does not appear that Tim has had much experience with audiobook narration, but I pray that is going to change. That Irish accent, his effortless emotion...it seemed like French's words were his own. I could have listened to him forever.
4.5 out of 5 stars