Faithful Place: A Dark Mystery

BlogHer Review

One genre of novel can contain so much variety. Lisa Scottolini writes witty mysteries. David Baldacci writes political mysteries. Tana French'sFaithful Place is a dark mystery.

I like mystery novels. Unfortunately, I don't like dark novels. Faithful Place isn't dark in the sense you might think. It doesn't feel like a horror novel; it's not gory; and there aren't any mentions of "dark, stormy nights," vampires, or werewolves. (Thank goodness!)

Instead, French's novel is dark because it explores human relationships that are far from ideal. The story centers on the Mackeys, a family that falls squarely in the "dysfunctional" category. Alcoholism, abuse, poverty, secrets -- any of these are enough to bring heartbreak to a family. The Mackeys inhabit each of these camps, and more.

Frank Mackey, a detective in Dublin's Undercover division, left home as a 19-year-old. He has had very little contact with his family since. He comes back to them when a clue shows up that may help him solve the mystery surrounding his teenage sweetheart, who disappeared on the same day that Frank left home.

As Frank investigates a case that he's been warned to stay away from, he reconnects with his family, and it's not always pretty. The case also affects his relationships with his daughter and his ex-wife. As Frank comes closer to solving the case, he begins to realize that sometimes there isn't much freedom in truth.

The story isn't without hope. Overall, however, it's real, and the reality of a family that's incredibly messed up, is that usually they stay incredibly messed up. Perhaps a few individual relationships can be salvaged. But the book would lose its credibility if it had a "happily ever after" ending.

In other words, what made the book realistic is also what made it hard for me to read. About halfway through, I found myself so involved in the story that it was hard to put the book down. However, when I was done with it, I was relieved. I wanted to know what happened, but I didn't enjoy the dark tone that covered most of the book. Once I was done with it, I was happy to leave the characters behind.

French is a great writer. The book is full of descriptions such as, "The moon hung low over the roofs, blurred and dirty with cloud." Most of the characters are very believable, often heart-breakingly so. The relationships between characters can be depressing, but the Dubliner dialogue often adds levity. (If you're like me, you'll occasionally get a kick out of reading sections aloud, using a horrid Irish accent!) This book reminded me that it's possible to dislike something that's written well.

If you like optimistic books with plenty of light humor and distinctly happy endings, you'll want to pass right by Faithful Place. Grab some Scottolini instead. But if you enjoy gritty, difficult novels -- stories that are compelling with characters who have dark sides the size of Texas --this just might be the book for you.

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