Faithful Place: Not Your Average Murder Mystery
Author Tana French hooked me with the opening paragraph of Faithful Place; her wistful and mysterious prose throughout the book kept me turning pages at a pace I haven’t maintained in decades. “In all your life, only a few minutes matter.”
Set mostly in a (fictitious) working class neighborhood of Dublin with the same name, where residents are born and raised and few ever leave no matter how much they want to, Faithful Place is more than a murder mystery; it’s also a story about love, heartbreak, family and growing up.
Nineteen-year-old Frank Mackey plans to go to England with his girlfriend Rosie, but that falls through when she doesn’t meet him at their scheduled rendezvous point. When he finds a goodbye note from her, he assumes it was meant for him, telling him she has changed her mind.
He leaves Faithful Place anyway, vowing never to return or have anything to do with his family. He believes she changed her mind because of them, especially his alcoholic, violent father. Instead of going to England, he remains in Dublin and ultimately becomes an undercover policeman with a grudge and a torch for Rosie, who he and every one else thinks is out there somewhere living a life apart from him and her family.
Then her suitcase is found stashed in the chimney of a dilapidated house about to be demolished in the neighborhood, full of items she packed twenty-two years ago, including two ferry tickets to England. It’s clear someone murdered Rosie before she could reach Frank that night.
Her murder brings him home again and he doesn’t like it. Although Frank isn’t officially on the case, he’s determined to have it solved and uses unorthodox methods at times to help it along, sort of a Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon character (although if this is made into a movie, I vote for Colin Farrell to play the lead.)
That’s the closest French comes to creating a cliché character, however; each one feels real and unique, as does the dialogue and the characters’ actions. I feel she did a great job getting inside a man’s head, although I’d like to hear a man’s opinion on that.
There’s some pretty strong language, but it feels natural and realistic. French also did a great job creating “place” -- each time I opened the book, I felt like I was stepping into Ireland.
On the surface, it seems a stretch for readers to believe Rosie’s family didn’t suspect something when they didn’t hear from her in twenty-two years, but it becomes easier to believe thanks to glimpses of the past through Frank’s eyes and narrative voice, each memory adding a layer to the complicated family and neighborhood dynamic.
I went through a murder mystery phase when I was younger, zooming through all the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie books I could find. But modern murder mysteries failed to hook me until now. French balances action and dialogue to keep her story moving forward. She kept me guessing and managed to surprise me several times.
This is the first of French’s novels I’ve read, but it has made me a fan for sure.