What Ian Rankin has been doing for Edinburgh, Tana French is doing for Dublin. Its pubs and tenements, its back yard gardens with converted jacks, and newly gentrified neighborhoods provide a setting that is as much a dynamic cityscape for the mayhem of her thrillers, as the alleys and landmarks of Edinburgh do for the investigations of Inspector Rebus. The Dublin of her crime fiction has the kind of impact that Dublin has in the stories of James Joyce: the rundown fair in "Araby" and the laundry in "Clay." French's Dublin is city that grabs its inhabitants by the scruff and holds on to them. If as Heraclitus has said character is fate, Dublin's fair city is clearly where that character is created.
"The Liberties," the first person narrator explains about the district in which Faithful Place is located, "grew on their own . . . .and the Place is a cramped cul-de-sac tucked away in the middle like a wrong turn in a maze." It is a place that has its own rules—the rules that create character: "no matter how skint you are, if you go to the pub then you stand your round. . . ; you leave the heroin to them down in the flats; even if you're an anarchist punk rocker this month, you go to Mass on Sunday; and no matter what, you never, ever squeal on anyone." It is a world where there is no more important motivation than saving face. And for most people born into it, it is a dead end.
Faithful Place, the latest of her thrillers about the undercover agency and the Dublin Murder Squad, centers on the discovery of a twenty two year old murder, an aborted elopement, and a dysfunctional family. Frank Mackey, a divorced undercover detective, sets out for a weekend with his nine year old daughter, when he gets an emergency call from his younger sister, the one member of his family he has maintained some contact with over the past twenty two years. He had left home planning to run off to England with the love of his life, Rosie Daley. They were to meet near one of the deserted tenements on their street, and when she fails to show up, he takes off on his own assuming she has changed her mind. Now a suitcase has been found hidden in the decrepit old building, and it is brought to Frank's parents. When it is discovered whose suitcase it is, it very soon becomes clear why Rosie never showed up.
After all those years away from his neighborhood, Frank is about to learn whether there is any truth to the Thomas Wolfe adage, You Can't Go Home Again, as he sets about to find out what really happened that night twenty two years ago. In the process he must face his family demons: a drunken abusive father, a nagging mother, a bullying older brother, as well as a younger brother and sister whom he had deserted and left to their own devices. Besides now he's a cop, and cops are neither much valued in his old haunts, nor much admired by his old friends and neighbors. If he wants to discover what happened to Rosie, he has to find some way of winning the confidence of people who don't trust him, of people who resent him, of the very people he had run from all those years ago.
Not only does French create a character driven thriller, she entwines her characters in a story that is filled with the kinds of twists and turns that will keep you turning pages. Indeed, if like me, Faithful Place is your first experience with her work, it may well send you back to her two earlier novels: In the Woods and The Likeness. If they are anything like Faithful Place, they will be well worth the reading.