This is a safe review; I’ll give you no spoilers and I’ll give you no major plot points- but I will let you know that no, we have not returned to the Dublin Murder Squad. While I found the departure disappointing in The Witch Elm, I found it thrilling here; the idyllic landscape filled with the insidious creep of small town communities. While we have not returned to the Murder Squad, we have returned to having a protagonist on the searching side of the law- and for that I am grateful.
Holy hell. I was gripped immediately, and I spent the last few days stealing pages here and there whenever I possibly could. I wanted to take it easy and to really savor this book, but I was hooked beyond hope of rescue within the first chapter. Obviously, I have no desire to tell anyone too much; The Witch Elm was ruined for me by JACKET COPY of all things, so I went in blind for The Searcher. The jacket copy here does not give away too much, but I do urge you to go in blind. Let the atmosphere drag you out into the sun dappled fields and boggy mountains of Western Ireland.
The morning has turned lavishly beautiful. The autumn sun gave the greens of the fields an impossible, mythic radiance and transformed the back roads into light-muddled paths where a goblin with a fiddle, or a pretty maiden with a basket, could be waiting around every game and-bramble bend. Cal is in no mood to appreciate any of it. He feels like this specific beauty is central to the illusion that lulled him in stupidity, turned him into the peasant gazing slack-jawed at his hand full of gold coins till they melt into dead leaves in front of his eyes. If all this had happened in some depressing suburban clot of tract homes and ruler-measured lawns, he would have kept his wits about him.
French has stated that this is her crack at a Western, and boy is it ever! The Searcher is trope heavy; it is rich and ripe with classic Westerns- the language, the characters, the overall beats of the plot- it is pulpy, dusty, and spattered in old blood. This is a full-on genre novel, and the adherence to the well-trodden beats would be clunky in the hands of anyone else, but French grips the reins tight. Her sense of time and space is, as always, masterful. No one writes as clear a timeline; her spaces are lived in, well-paced, and strung tight. You will jump with every snapped twig. Her townsfolk are full of folksy aphorisms and genuine uncontrolled power. Characters toss out lines like “My granddad was after dying the month before that, of a stroke. That took him four days. Life seems like a big thing when it takes four days for all of it to leave a man. When it’s gone in a few sec- and, it looks awful small all of a sudden” over tea like they’re discussing the weather.
This novel will make an excellent TV or film adaptation; I – for once- want to see a visual adaptation because I would love to really see this mean little world come to life; the writing is missing something, but I am itching to see what a director like James Mangold could do; bring this piece full circle back to the Westerns and Samurai films that built the bones. I hollered, laughed, shouted my fair share of “WHAT?!” and found myself wiping away tears more than once. It is a well-trod but still thrillingly wild ride.