The Trespasser, by Tana French

The TrespasserGuys. Guys. Guys. My love for Tana French is, I believe, well-documented on this blog, so it should come as no surprise to you that I broke down and read the book a full month before it came out because I couldn’t wait any longer. What might be more surprising, if you give any thought to my Goodreads activity at all (which, if you do, you might need a new hobby…), is that I broke my completely arbitrary rule against posting thoughts to Goodreads before posting them here to post the following spoiler-tastic review: “!!!”

How do I feel a month later? I’m definitely still at least three exclamation marks in love with this book. It is super good, guys. Super good.

In our last outing with the Dublin Murder Squad, we hung out with Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran at a posh boarding school. In this installment, we get to hang out with the both of them again (yay!) at Dublin Castle as they investigate a weird-looking murder. It’s the kind of murder that should be an open-and-shut case, but Conway and Moran have a bad feeling about both the case and their colleague’s seeming insistence on closing the case as fast as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, we spend a not-altogether-comfortable amount of time in Conway’s head, which is full of the calculus of interpersonal interaction, worries about which of her colleagues is going to be nasty to her today, and a seemingly endless bag of fuck-it-all to throw at anything that bothers her. Conway’s got one of those chess-playing minds that sees everything three or four steps ahead, although in this twisted case it’s hard to tell if she’s seeing the right three steps ahead or not.

I want so badly to talk about the ending of this book, but it’s one of those endings that, while not necessarily spoilable, is best read on its own terms, so I will zip my lips except to say that I love the way that French plays with my expectations in all (welllll, most) of her books and this one is no different.

Instead, I will talk about how much I love French’s writing and how I’ve decided that if I ever make it to Dublin my first stop is going to be Dublin Castle because I have to know if it lives up to her descriptions of it. And also how I love how tightly plotted her mysteries are without being only tightly plotted mysteries. And also how I can’t fathom how it’s possible that I simultaneously still want to know what happened to Rob Ryan, don’t care because Conway is my new favorite, and am looking forward to ditching Conway for whatever character gets top billing next.

If you’ve not gotten into this series, they’re all pretty good standalone books, though I think you should read The Secret Place before or after this one for the full Conway-Moran package. And then you should read In the Woods. And The Likeness. And Broken Harbour. And probably Faithful Place; I really ought to give it another try someday. And then you can wait impatiently with me for book number seven. [insert impatient emoji here]

Recommendation: Reeeead it!

The Secret Place, by Tana French

The Secret PlaceI wrote a little blurb about this book for a program called LibraryReads where librarians nerd out about the best books coming out every month, and it goes a little something like this:

β€œFrench has broken my heart yet again with her fifth novel, which examines the ways in which teenagers and adults can be wily, calculating, and backstabbing, even with their friends. The tension-filled flashback narratives, relating to a murder investigation in suburban Dublin, will keep you turning pages late into the night.”

And, I mean, seriously. If you’ve read any of Tana French’s other work, you probably don’t need me to tell you to GO READ THIS RIGHT NOW WHY ARE YOU NOT READING THIS RIGHT NOW, but just in case, I will tell you that this ranks right up there with Broken Harbour and a second reading of In the Woods as one of her best. Sooooo good, guys.

The story: Holly Mackey (of the Faithful Place Mackeys) shows up at our favorite police station with a Post Secret-style card from the Secret Place at her fancy-pants boarding school where kids can post anything they want anonymously with minimal oversight from the adult types. This card says that someone at her school knows who really killed a student who was found dead on the school’s campus a year before. Stephen Moran, to whom Holly entrusts the message, is a Cold Cases cop eager to make the Murder squad, and he jumps at the opportunity to work with the currently partner-less Antoinette Conway who headed up the case in the first place.

He thinks he knows what he’s getting into, but when he gets to the school he realizes he’s forgotten how ruthless and cunning teenagers can be, especially in an isolated boarding school. He’s also conveniently forgotten that the games these kids are playing are the same ones he should be playing at work, which is why he’s stuck in Cold Cases.

Interspersed with Moran’s story is the story of Holly and her friends starting a few months before the death of Chris Harper, during which they decided to skip over the pettiness of high school and stop caring what other people think, which is a great idea but really hard to implement when you spend your entire life with the same people. French drops in hints here and there about how Holly and her friends’ actions and the actions of other students will eventually lead to Chris’s death, but as always she keeps you wondering up to the end.

Also as always, French’s writing is perfect and amazing, and her characters are all completely believable and somehow sympathetic, even the ones who are kind of terrible people. In this book she throws in a new Gothic idea, that Holly and her friends have magical powers, and although I was like, no, of course they don’t, at first, by the end of the book I was ready to believe whatever French wanted me to believe. There’s really no arguing with her.

Now I just have to wait patiently for the next novel. That’s coming out soon, right? Please?

Recommendation: For all the people, but especially those who like a little Gothic mood in their crime procedural.

Rating: 10/10

In the Woods, by Tana French

In the WoodsIf you’ve been around this blog for a while, this title might sound a little familiar. Yes, indeed, this is the third time I’ve read this book, and the second and third time I’ve inflicted it on a book club (multi-tasking!). So I’m just going to skip the plot rehashing (previous blog posts linked below) and go straight into the thinky thoughts.

It was really fascinating to read this book a third time; I almost never re-read books and this may be the only book I’ve read three times in adulthood (well, maybe The Phantom Tollbooth?). In my first reading, my big takeaway from the novel was the insane, convoluted path the case took to the absolutely frustrating ending. Throw-the-book-across-the-room frustrating. Uggggh. In the second reading, I made a point of looking for all the hints and clues French left pointing toward said ending, and oh my goodness there were so many.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this reading — what could possibly be left to interest me for 400-some pages? Lots, actually. This time around I found myself drawn to Rob Ryan’s constant refrain of “I’m a liar” and “I am not to be trusted” and noting the holes in his narrative. How did he really feel about Cassie? Why was he so set on remaining on this case? What the heck really happened in those woods all those years ago? My book-club-mates came up with some ideas for that last one that I hadn’t thought of through three entire readings, and that I would have dismissed out of hand after two of them, but now I am definitely wondering. Darn you, unreliable narrator!

The other thing I noticed more in this reading was French’s devotion to the setting. I wasn’t really versed in Gothic literature until well after reading this book the first time and maybe even after the second, so I kind of didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the Knocknaree woods are practically a character in their own right, hiding secret castles and spiriting away children and becoming an obsession for more than one otherwise-rational dude. At first, French’s attention to detail frustrated me a bit, as I was like, dude, I forgot how long this book is and book club is coming faster than I anticipated and let’s just get back to the horrifying murder, ‘kay? But then her gorgeous writing won me over and I was happy to let her words wash over me late, late into the night so that I could finish the book in time.

I warned one of my book clubs that they were all going to hate the ending, as there is absolutely no way to finish this book the first time and not want to punch one or more fictional characters right in the face, and at the meeting they were all like, you were SO right. But it’s a testament to the strength of French’s writing that half of them were excited to hear that there were more books to read and more ridiculous murders to solve (or not solve, as the case may be).

The fact that I was willing to read the book three times is also telling, although there is very little that would compel me to go for four. I actually liked this book better the second time around, when I could see all the awful coming and note how skillfully French made it impossible to see the first time, but on a third reading it became less of a fantastic story and more of a piece of literature to be broken down and analyzed and while it was a fascinating read, it just wasn’t as fun as I remembered. Luckily French continues to provide me new things to read, including this fall’s The Secret Place (which I am SO EXCITED about omg), so I can get back to having fun very soon!

Recommendation: For those who’ve bought a hard copy ready to be thrown across the room and those who love a great turn of phrase as much as a great plot twist.

Rating: 8/10 this time, but grudgingly.

Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Broken HarborTana French, you’ve ripped my heart out yet again. And I loved it.

I was nervous about this book after my previous disappointment slash failure of expectations. I figured I’d let it sit a while, do its thing, then maybe pick it up in a week or two. Instead, I got stuck in traffic on the way home from the library, read about five pages while stopped, and eagerly devoured the rest of it over the next couple of days. And then died a little bit.

Broken Harbor follows French’s tried-and-true style of a crazy-pants mystery that weighs on some slightly-less-crazy-pants detectives. In this go-round, our mystery seems to be a family murdered in their home — a father, a young son and daughter, and an only mostly dead mother who is whisked off to the hospital — but gets weird when the detectives notice a bunch of holes in the wall with video baby monitors pointed at them, and weirder still when they realize someone has been seriously and creepily spying on the dead family.

On the detective side, our narrator is Scorcher Kennedy, fresh off his own disappointment in the last book and ready to solve the heck out of this case. In addition to that baggage, he also has a dead mother who killed herself many years ago not far from the dead family’s house and a troubled sister who chooses this inopportune time to require Scorcher’s presence 24/7.

The mystery part is both fantastic and awful; there are twists and turns and subtle shifts galore and at parts I found myself wanting to skip ahead several pages to find out what was going to happen because I couldn’t stand being so anxious anymore! I held out, but barely.

And the personal part… I may not have felt a connection with Frank Mackey last time, but Scorcher, man, I liked him a lot. I wouldn’t be friends with him, largely because he wouldn’t let me, but I would definitely read another book about Scorcher (or Rob Ryan! Or Cassie! What are they doing and why won’t you tell me, Tana French???). I just continue to wonder how the Dublin police department functions with their detectives constantly getting into such weird crap.

This is one of those books I don’t want to say too much about because it’s way more fun to experience on your own, but please, go read it and then come back and let’s talk about all the things down in the comments!

Recommendation: For lovers of Tana French, insane mysteries, and awesome Irish slang.

Rating: 9/10

Faithful Place, by Tana French

And finally, we get to the new book! I have been very excited for this book ever since I heard it was coming out, which was maybe not that long ago, but still! And I got it from the library the first day I could, but I was all busy with reading other books and it took me like A WEEK before I could read it. The travesty!

Maybe it was all that excitement from the first paragraph, or maybe it’s because I got myself all worked up by reading the previous two books first, but I felt rather let down by this installment. 😦 No, I know what it was… French’s books have always been more character-driven than mystery-driven, but this book pretty much threw away the mystery story in favor of an in-depth look into Frank Mackey, who I didn’t care much about in the first place. Sigh.

The mystery, what it is, is first that a suitcase shows up in Mackey’s family’s neighborhood, and it belongs to the girl he meant to run away to England with many years ago. She never showed, but Mackey went off anyway and never went home… until this suitcase thing. It quickly turns out that his girl, Rosie, is dead under some concrete in a dilapidated building, and then before you can wrap your head around that Mackey’s brother ends up dead, having fallen out of a window in some manner or other. Mackey, being Mackey, goes off to do his investigating while being bombarded on all sides by family and history.

It’s interesting, sure, but I’d gotten used to hearing about French’s characters in bits and pieces and anecdotes, not all at once, and because there’s so much focus on Mackey’s history the mystery part of the book falls flat. I wouldn’t tell you not to read this book, but I would personally rather go read In the Woods again first.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2010, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Likeness, by Tana French

So after I finished In the Woods, I had a dilemma. Should I just read Faithful Place, French’s new book about a character introduced in her second book, since the books are definitely standalone? Or should I go read those 450 pages of The Likeness again? Obviously, I chose the latter, mainly because I get twitchy about reading things out of order and also because in discussion with my friend Cari I had realized that I could barely remember a thing about this book, the one that I loved so much more than In the Woods.

So I sat down and read this book, but it was not nearly as good the second time around as In the Woods was, nor was it as good as I remember it being in the first place. The premise is spectacular: Cassie Maddox gets called in to help in a murder investigation because the dead girl not only looks startlingly like Cassie but is also carrying around ID that says she’s Lexie Madison, a person that Cassie and her boss made up when she was in Undercover. Creepy, right? Said boss, Frank Mackey, has sort of commandeered the investigation because he has decided that it would be awesome to see if Cassie could go undercover as the dead girl into the house where she lived with her four nearest, dearest, and possibly only friends.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but I think the main interest I had in this book came from wondering if and when Cassie was going to get caught. Knowing what eventually happens really takes the suspense out of it, and I was just sort of like, “Okay, whatevs.” In the Woods had a cleverly psychotic killer, but (spoiler alert?) this one doesn’t, so there isn’t that same awe at watching the investigation unfold. But I’m still amazed how realistically Cassie embeds herself into the house, and I do love how the house itself is an important character in the story, so I will maintain my love for this book. Just maybe I won’t read it again.

Rating: 9/10 (was a 10… sigh…)
(Flashback Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Reading Matters
reading is my superpower

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

In the Woods, by Tana French

I read this book once before, waaaaay back in the day (well, relatively speaking). I absolutely loved it, and I told everyone who had ears that it was a wonderful book and that they should go read it and why were they still talking to me etc. So when I got to pick the book for and lead a discussion group for my library practicum, I was like, “Have they read In the Woods? Because they should have. I will now make them.”

And then I packed up my books to send down to Jacksonville with Scott, and I packed this book omg! So I had to borrow it from the library. The library must really love me.

So I got like six people to read this book all at once, which was delightful, and of course I had to read it again, because although I remembered how it ended I knew there was a lot more in the middle that I was missing in my memory. Oh boy, was there. I had forgotten how much confusion there is β€” they’re looking for a killer, obviously, but then there’s this other case that might tie in, and there are so many leads to follow up on and people to talk to and it’s a wonder this case even gets solved at all!

And knowing the ending already… man. I could see where all of these threads were leading, slowly but surely, and I was still like, “No! Don’t let it happen! CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?!?!?!” Oh. It’s kind of devastating. You can see how ridiculously clever, and plotting, and foresight-having, and completely insane the killer is, and I have a certain respect for that even though of course we should use such powers for good. Of course.

What I’m saying is, if you haven’t read it already, seriously, go do that please, and if you have read it and you have some free time on your hands, read it again. Wonderful.

Rating: 10/10 (it was a 9 before, but the ending is much less disappointing the second time around!)
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Flashback Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Reading Matters
reading is my superpower
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.