Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tana French, FAITHFUL PLACE: A Cry of Murder in Dublin

There was once a real road named "Faithful Place" within the network of neighborhoods that make up Dublin, Ireland. But the one Tana French creates in her third novel, FAITHFUL PLACE, is more real than that -- drenched in losses and laughter, sorrow and sometimes savagery. Undercover cop Frank Mackey walked away from it at age nineteen, believing that Rosie Daly, his girlfriend, had abandoned him. Or at least, if he didn't believe it, he believed he was alone and somehow deserved it. When Rosie's suitcase turns up 22 years later, the discovery drags Frank back to all the unfinished business he'd hoped to avoid. Some of it is in other people; some of it is in him. His ex-wife Olivia, it turns out, knows more about that condition than Frank ever realized.

But before he can even start to sort that out, he's got to get the simple facts of Rosie's disappearance. At first, he thinks he can handle the investigation without bringing in his official standing. But all too soon, the Dublin Murder Squad -- French's stomping ground from her two earlier books -- is on the scene. Before the others arrive, Frank has a moment of almost truce as he tries to record details from Rosie's family:
They knew it by heart, just like every family that's lost a child -- I once had a mother show me which glass her son drank out of, the morning before he took his overdose. A Sunday morning in Advent, cold, with a gray-white sky and breath hanging in the air like fog. Rosie had come in early the night before, so she had gone to nine o'clock Mass with the rest of the family, rather than sleeping in and getting the noon Mass, the way she did if she'd been out late Saturday night. They had come home and made a fry-up for breakfast -- back then, eating before Holy Communion earned you a string of Hail Marys at your next confession. Rosie had done the ironing while her mother washed up, and the two of them had discussed when to buy the ham for Christmas dinner; it grabbed my breath for a second, the through of her calmly talking about a meal she had no plans to eat and dreaming about a Christmas that would be just hers and mine.
That fragile bubble of hope for a life outside of poverty and brutality had burst for Frank, shattered without Rosie. He'd left home anyway, crafted a life for himself, a set of rules and community within which he had some faith, some trust -- things that the neighborhood of Faithful Place so sorely lacked. Or did it? What could be relied on? Where was the truth? Who, besides his daughter, who didn't know better, would be faithful to Frank Mackey?

French's langorous scenes, richly detailed and painted with longing and tenderness even in the midst of assault and cussing, are stabbed fiercely with the suspense and tightly knotted strings that Frank must untie. The sanctity of memory and love sort out repeatedly in twists of plot and layers of character. What are the sins of commission and omission? Who pays the price?

Every wrench of the heart in this intense and vivid novel comes with both a gasp of surprise and a sigh of "ah, I knew that had to come sooner or later." Frank's ultimate payment, his ultimate revelation, is soul-shattering. Yet Faithful Place and its bonds of family may yet have something that's worth his return. At what cost?

I'll be re-reading this one, and finding copies of French's earlier volumes, In the Woods and The Likeness. They are linked to this third one through the Dublin Murder Squad, but not directly in terms of characters. So -- FAITHFUL PLACE stands alone, taking in a trembling breath and facing both the past the the pain of the present. It's a grand book, and a wonderful read.

[PS: If you decide to visit the author's web site, click on the "UK and Ireland" version, which is more substantial.]

1 comment:

Other Lisa said...

This has so been on my list! Now it's moved up another notch.