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review 2018-09-13 17:44
French Takes on Teens
The Secret Place - Tana French

The Secret Place is Tana French’s fifth entry in her fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Like in the previous novels, French selects one member of the squad to build a story around.  This time, French concentrates the action on Stephen Moran, a new officer first introduced in her third book, Faithful Place.  Moran played a pivitol role in that novel, and it provides background information about his methods and character.  The earlier work also establishes his initial encounter with Frank Mackey, an MS detective who also appears here in The Secret Place. Holly, Mackey’s daughter brings an important clue to Moran who is starting out in the Cold Cases department.  It involves an unsolved murder that took place a year ago at her posh private school.  A boy from the school next door was found dead in the woods, but the perpetrator and a possible motive was never discovered.  Moran is ambitious and leaps at the opportunity to bring the new evidence to a Murder Squad member who might vouch for him and advance his career.  Unfortunately, the detective assigned to the case when it was active was Antionette Conway.  She is an outcast in the Murder Squad, and her prickly demeanor and easily offended sensibilities will make working with her a challenge.  Moran and Conway reopen the case and head up to St. Kilda’s school to follow up. Their investigation brings them in contact with two opposing groups of tight-knit girls who definitely know more than they admitted last year.  French juxtaposes the two cliques, exploring teen friendships-some based on dominance/intimidation, and others on blind loyalty and co-dependence. It is a pretty negative and stereotypical portrayal of adolescent girls, and Conway is also not presented as the best example of a well-adjusted female.  There is a different tone to The Secret Place, which is often considered to be the weakest entry in French’s otherwise successful series.  Some elements stretch credulity and the character development is not as extensive as in the others.  Fans accustomed to her gritty realism and deeper psychological themes may find it a bit disappointing, but French’s writing and storytelling are still more impressive than most.  Her next Dublin Murder Squad book, The Trespasser, is French at her best again and not to be missed. Each Murder Squad mystery can stand alone, but the sequential reader benefits from a richer understanding of the characters, their history, and their interactions with other members of the squad. A new stand-alone work, The Witch Elm is due to be released in October 2018.

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review 2018-08-13 17:40
Amazing Writing and Characterization
Broken Harbor - Tana French

Broken Harbor is the fourth installment in Tana French’s fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Each of her the novels feature a different member of the squad, usually a character introduced in a previous work. French expertly pairs each fully-formed character with a complementary storyline and appropriate tone.  Broken Harbor highlights Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was introduced as a minor character and antagonist of sorts in the previous book: A Faithful Place.  Kennedy has an excellent track record with the squad and is known for his diligence and strict adherence to procedure.  When a triple murder gets called in, his superior offers him a chance to head up the high-profile investigation.  During their conversation it is intimated that there was a prior case that was uncharacteristically problematic for Scorcher. He needs to redeem himself by quickly resolving this one to retain his reputation. He also is obliged to act as a mentor to his rookie partner, Richie.  Richie is rough around the edges, but eager to prove himself.  Meanwhile, Kennedy’s mentally-ill younger sister returns and caring for her is a potential distraction and a conflict of duty. The triple homicide brings Scorcher back to a familiar location that has some strong emotional attachment for him and his family.  Kennedy’s own complicated backstory is carefully unfolded as he investigates the murder of the young family.  He and his new partner seem well suited to each other, and he begins to feel a guarded respect for the younger officer.  Scorcher’s past has alienated and hardened him, but he begrudgingly suspects that he might eventually accept Richie as a permanent partner or friend.  Broken Harbor, like all of French’s novels, is exquisitely paced and well-written.  It is a thrilling mystery with many unexpected turns that also manages to address some deeper themes as well.  The need for keeping up appearances, the power of shame and the nebulous boundaries between right/wrong weave into the narrative.  As a staunch believer in the rules, Kennedy prefers clear-cut answers when “the world’s vast hissing tangle of shadows burns away, all its treacherous grays are honed to the stark purity of a bare blade, two-edged: cause and effect, good and evil.”  Unfortunately, he discovers that circumstances are often far more complicated and may not be so easily defined.  This case will challenge Scorcher’s core beliefs and cause him to question all the rules he has come to rely on.  Broken Harbor can be read as a stand-alone novel, but mystery fans would benefit from starting the series from the beginning.

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review 2018-07-04 20:08
How much loyalty to family is necessary?
Faithful Place - Tana French

Faithful Place, Tana French, author; Tim Gerard Reynolds, narrator

The novel takes place in Dublin, Ireland, on a fictional street called Faithful Place. It is a dying street with the odd empty lot and abandoned house. The Mackeys and the Dalys live on the street. Frank’s family is very dysfunctional with an overbearing mother and unemployed drunk for a father. Rosie’s family is more normal, with a father who is hard working and a mother who was once the darling of Faithful Place.

Frank (Francis) Mackey is in love with Rosie (Rose) Daly. Both 19, living in homes that are very controlling and confining, they longed to be free. Passionately in love, they plan to run away to London and begin a new life together. On the night they plan to meet up, only one of them arrives at the meeting place. The other, does not appear. As the hour grows later and later, Frank becomes convinced that he has been dumped. He is so disappointed that he runs away by himself and never returns to the neighborhood or his family for 22 years. He believes that Rosie has gone to London without him.

Now, decades later, he is an undercover cop, quite contrary to the expected behavior of anyone coming from Faithful Place where cops are completely disdained and mistrusted. The only person he has kept in touch with, over the years, is his sister Jackie. When he receives a frantic call from her, asking him to return home, he is not happy. However, the family is at their wit’s end because a suitcase was discovered in an abandoned house on their street. It may very well belong to his old girlfriend, Rose Daly. What was it doing in number 16 Faithful Place? Where was Rose Daly? Did she run off all those years ago? If she did, why did she leave her suitcase behind? Where did Frank Mackey run 22 years ago? Why did he run? When 16 Faithful Place was fully searched, a body was found hidden there. Many more questions arise. Was Rose Daly murdered and if so, by whom? The story twists and turns and highlights family loyalty above all else, even with their awful warts and foibles.

The story’s murder investigation highlights the whirlpool some people get stuck in because of poverty and a lack of education. The meaning of the family and the neighborhood take on new meaning? How much does any family member owe to another? What is the responsibility of one to the other? How much damage does a dysfunctional family do to each member? Can a family be so toxic that the only cure is a complete separation from it? Should family devotion and honor (even when the family is less than stellar) be above the law? On this matter, I believe the novel sends mixed messages when the interactions between Frank and his daughter Holly are explored. When is it okay to lie? Is it okay to lie to law enforcement? Does genetic history predetermine all personality traits? Can negative traits be overcome? Can good behavior be learned as well as bad behavior? Can a person who has experienced poor parenting be a good parent? Is the solving of a crime dependent on expedience or guilt or innocence? Why is there so much resentment toward the police force? Many questions arise, and they are even more relevant today regarding law enforcement than when the book was written a decade ago.

I was glad that this author did not fall prey to the need to put in wasteful sex scenes to titillate the reader even when there was no relevance like so many authors do today in order to attract readers. However, there was too much wasted dialogue that seemed irrelevant. The narrator, Reynolds, was excellent in both accent and tone. The author caught the authentic atmosphere of family life in Dublin on such a street like Faithful Place.

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review 2018-06-27 00:00
Faithful Place
Faithful Place - Tana French Faithful Place, the third of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, zeroes in on the character of Det. Frank Mackey. Mackey played a more minor role in her second novel as a member of the Undercover division. Here, readers get to know Frank Mackey extremely well as he is reluctantly drawn back into an unsolved mystery from his youth. Growing up in the 80s in the poorer section of Dublin (the titular “Faithful Place”), Frank longed to escape a likely bleak future with his first love, Rose Daly. Rose’s father has a long-standing animosity toward the Mackey clan, so the two young lovers plan to secretly run off to London together one cold winter night. When Rose does not show up at their meeting place, Frank believes that she has abandoned him because of his family’s reputation. Devastated, he vows to never return and turns his back on his past. When Mackey learns that unidentified skeletal remains have been found in an abandoned Faithful Place house, he reluctantly comes back to his former home that holds nothing but bad memories for him and confronts a family that resents his departure. Frank needs to employ his undercover skills of dissembling and detachment to finally learn the truth about Rose’s disappearance. Faithful Place explores themes of family roles and obligations- what degree of loyalty and sense of responsibility is expected when someone comes from an abusive background? French is a fantastic writer who creates fully-formed characters and unflinchingly portrays the darkest issues that people too often must face. Each of the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries can stand alone but are enriched by each other. Many mystery and literary fiction fans extol French’s books as among the best written today, and new readers will find it difficult to resist reading them all.
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review 2018-05-28 00:00
The Likeness
The Likeness - Tana French The second of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, the Likeness, casts its spotlight on Cassie Maddox. The witty and fearless detective appeared in French’s In the Woods as the main character’s partner and best friend. This time, Cassie takes on the role of narrator, and tells another thrilling story of events that take place after the conclusion of the first book. Readers would definitely benefit from reading the first novel, but would not find it necessary in order to enjoy this one. Cassie, having now moved on from the Murder Squad into a new position in Domestic Violence, gets a call from her boyfriend, Sam (who is still with the Squad). He asks for her help on a curious case that he has just been called out on. When she arrives at the scene, Cassie is surprised to also encounter her former boss from the undercover division. Frank Mackey was her supervisor when she left that job after being injured while on a mission. His presence at this scene is explained when she sees the victim. Not only does the dead woman look exactly like Cassie, she also had been using her old undercover identity, “Lexie Madison.” Frank wants her to use both her undercover and murder squad experience to impersonate the woman and solve the mystery of her death and discover her real origins. The real challenge would be deceiving the classmates that the deceased was living with- a group of strangely over-attached misfits from the college nearby. They seem to know each other to an uncanny degree, won’t talk to outsiders and are, of course, the main suspects in the murder investigation. Cassie needs to infiltrate their group and maintain their trust, using only phone video recordings to get into character. As she gets deeper into the ruse, she contends with her own search for belonging and a burgeoning desire to discover what she really wants for her own future. What is so amazing about this book is that it requires a huge suspension of disbelief and acceptance of extreme coincidence on the part of the reader-a feat that only a writer as skilled as Tana French could evoke. The next book in the series, Faithful Place, continues her exploration of different character arcs with a story involving Frank Mackey. Mystery fans who enjoy a more literary style, doppelganger fiction, and the 1992 novel Secret History (by Donna Tartt) would find much to enjoy in French’s excellent second outing.
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