Tragedies of epic, archetypical themes.
So, with Faithful Place, the third book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, I finally reach the end of a fairly concentrated immersion in matters murky, Dublin, French style. I started out of order, reading her two latest books, Broken Harbour and The Secret Place, following strong recommendations by a couple of savvy bloggers, Fleur In Her World and Cleopatra Loves Books, got immediately hooked, and then embarked on 1-3
I think the fact that I read my first Tana French, Broken Harbour, 6 weeks ago, and finished this one last week, probably says much more about French’s compulsive, interesting, quality writing than this particular review can. I did read other books as well in that period, mainly because, however brilliant a writer is, (in fact, particularly if they are brilliant!) I don’t think a solo immersion is useful – it can get a bit like only eating one kind of food. However delicious, the palate gets jaded, and other sustenance, other nutrients are required, both for variety and to sustain appreciation for that favourite.
Even so, as I started each new French, I was wondering ‘have I overdone it, will I be too immured into her style, her tricks, her vision, so that I get a ‘oh, here we go again’. Well, bravo, Tana French, because I didn’t.
Now that’s not to say I didn’t guess, fairly early on, the who-dunnit of Faithful Place – French has a clearly short list of potential perps, and drops some clues early on, so we know early on who both the herrings, and the do-er of dastardly-deeds might be. But the person who did it is never the major focus of French’s writing. She is a writer of time, of place, of society, and, above all, the close and frequently (in her novels at least) dysfunctional nature of family. Out of particular families, in the time and place of their culture, the happenings arise.
Reading all 5 books in a short time scale, what I got, increasingly, was a kind of Greek Tragedy, the chorus is given by the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ – except, that in each book, a spotlight shifts, bringing different members of that chorus, different detectives and their side-kicks and team partners, out from the background, into centre stage, which they then share with the particular crime being investigated. And sometimes, as with this book, the detective and the particular crime have uncomfortably close associations.
Each of her books make one detective centre stage, but a central character in one will crop up as a not-quite-peripheral, or even as a major minor player in another.
But this book has a particularly challenging protagonist/instigator-and-victim of fate. We met Frank Mackey as a powerful, charismatic, dynamic figure in The Likeness. Mackey heads up Undercover Operations. We don’t know too much about his past, but he is hugely influential in The Likeness. And he will appear again as a slippery, influential player in The Secret Place, attractive and manipulative by turns. In those two novels, the reader sees pretty well only Mackey’s mask.
In this book, he is slap bang in the centre, and the source of his complex and damaged personality, and how that damage is used both positively and in a retrograde way, comes clear. He is like some kind of scorpion figure. Scorpions (well, female scorpions) are fiercely protective of their families – and the family, in this context, may spread far wider than blood family. But, as all know, their sting is deadly, and a wide berth should be kept!
Mackey is certainly not an attractive figure here. The book is told in his voice, and that voice is generally brutal, unforgiving, self serving. What redeems him is his love for his precocious daughter, Holly. And his love for his ex-wife, Olivia, though it is largely Mackey’s driven, controlling, self-protective angry personality which made Olivia end the marriage.
Mackey came from a very dysfunctional family indeed. Father an alcoholic, unskilled, though with a huge potential which was never realised, due to neighbourhood enmities going back a generation; mother a manipulating fearful and aggressive mammy martyr. And the 5 children, Carmel, Shay, Frank, Kevin, Jackie, the battleground on which the parental war was played out.
One of my da’s tragedies was always the fact that he was bright enough to understand just how comprehensively he had shat all over his life. He would have been a lot better off thick as a plank
Frank Mackey, back in his teenage years, had a secret first love, Rosie Daly. Theirs was a Romeo and Juliet affair as the Daly and Mackey fathers were sworn enemies. Frank and Rosie were deep in the planning of elopement and escape to England, but the night they had set for this to happen, Rosie didn’t show, and left a note for Frank, saying that she was going to England and was sorry to hurt him. This devastating blow to his idealistic dreams not only damaged, for life, his ability to trust, be intimate and open with anyone, but also meant that he also ran away from his own home, that night. He had after all, planned to do this with Rosie, now he did it alone. Twenty two years later he is still estranged from his family who never forgave him for leaving. The enmity between the Mackeys and the Dalys has also grown, as the Daly family had been convinced, given that both Frank and Rosie vanished on the same night, that they had gone together, and that somehow Frank must have abandoned Rosie in England, and returned to build a better life for himself as a member of the Garda. The community don’t have much liking for the Garda.
But now, twenty two years later, events happen which fling open all the doors revealing community cupboards full to bursting with skeletons.
It took me a little longer to surrender to this book than most of the others – and in the main it is because of the challenges of an unlikeable central character. French manages this brilliantly, but Frank’s heat, and rage are uncomfortable to be with. But for sure you are made to fully understand and engage with why Frank’s aggression, despair and anger are as they are – and he is also a man who struggles and positively tries to engage with his shadows.
And it also has to be said that Mackey’s dark wit keeps the reader going. His is an unkind humour, but he is amusing
A handful of ten-year-olds with underprivileged hair and no eyebrows were slouched on a wall, scoping out the cars and thinking wire hangers. All I needed was to come back and find that suitcase gone. I leaned my arse on the boot, labelled my Fingerprint Fifi envelopes, had a smoke and stared our country’s future out of it until the situation was clear all round and they (expletive deleted meaning ‘went away’) …to vandalise someone who wouldn’t come looking for them