A hallmark of Tana French’s incredible body of work is how she will always use spaces in a critical and often harrowing way to her narrative. Wooded forests, the basement of an abandoned building, a rustic home for young academics…there’s always something mystifying and foreboding about how she can take the banal and make it come alive in ways one wouldn’t expect.
Here is no exception. Playing with the familiar English/British countryside mystery, French uses rural Ireland set against the mountains. And as might be familiar to American readers, rural mountain life can be a hard one.
She makes the interesting decision to set the entire book through the POV of a retired Chicago police detective who moves to Ireland on a wild hair. No doubt, French is making a comment on how we in the States view the British countryside mystery. Yet French is not content with the stereotypes of the genre. Everything here is character driven and Cal might be one of her best creations. He’s familiar (divorced, dad, gruff) and yet feels like a fully realized person because French textures him just enough to make the reader invested. As he gets pulled into this layered mystery, which again is less about the “whodunnit” and more about the “whydunnit”, I was drawn in with him because his eyes were my eyes, at least from a cultural perspective.
I wouldn’t put this as French’s best work. It takes a little while to get going and while the conclusions were exciting in their resolution, they weren’t particularly inspired. Still, this is another great work from the Queen of crime fiction, far superior to The Witch Elm. I’d love to see her return to the Dublin Murder Squad but it’s clear she knows what she’s doing too with these books.