Tana French’s Faithful Place, the third novel in her Dublin Murder Squad series, draws us to the poor Dublin neighborhood of the Liberties and sends us back in time to the 1980s, the height of Ireland’s poor economy and emigration problem. Readers of The Likeness will remember Cassie’s Undercover boss Frank Mackey, who is the star of this novel. In December, 1985, Frank was a 19 year old, poised to run away to London with his girlfriend Rosie Daly. Headed for the morning ferry, he was at the beginning of a new life — escaping his violent, alcoholic father, dysfunctional family and poor economic prospects…only Rosie never showed.
Twenty years later, Frank is an established and respected Undercover detective. When he receives a phone call from his younger sister Jackie giving him the news that a new construction project has unearthed Rosie Daly’s suitcase, his understanding of his last night in Faithful Place is thrown into turmoil, and he begins to wonder if Rosie meant to meet him after all. Carefully protecting his new identity from his family, Frank returns home to finally answer the questions that have been chasing him since the night his dreams of his life with Rosie were shattered.
As with French’s other mysteries, Faithful Place is deeply character driven. The story is not truly about the mystery of Rosie Daly’s disappearance — instead, as in her first novel In the Woods, French asks us what the consequences of going home again are. The family dynamics are classic alcoholic family dynamics — the older siblings react to their father’s violence by taking on the responsibilities of protecting their younger siblings from their parents. Frank’s siblings are as scarred as he is, though they wear it differently. When Frank returns, in his official duties as a Garda cop, he finds that his family and his neighbors are equally suspicious of his motives. When he quickly finds Rosie’s body, old wounds are reopened, and they all point back to him.
One of the beautiful components of French’s writing is how accurately she combines psychological insight with the troubled history of Ireland. She demonstrates the difference between Frank and his childhood best by subtle dialect — Frank’s language is posh, educated and practiced. We can hear the advantages that he had — his extra years of education, his years married to a barrister, the daughter that he now lives to protect — in the way that he speaks. Meanwhile his siblings, who never made it far from Faithful Place, speak in a street slang that reminds us that Frank lives in a different world. His tenacity in answering the question of what happened to Rosie also sets him apart — while he’s willing to explode the past in his rage, his family, old friends and neighbors want to keep it buried. For lovers of language, the sheer Irishness of French’s prose will also be a delight.
Cooper the pathologist, a narky little bollix with a God complex, got there first. He pulled up in his big black Merc, stared severely over the heads of the crowd till the waters parted to let him through, and stalked into the house, fitting on his gloves and leaving the murmurs to boil up louder behind him. A couple of hoodies drifted up around his car, but the bogmonster shouted something unintelligible at them and they sloped away again, without changing expression. The Place felt too full and too focused, buzzing hard, like a riot was just waiting for its moment to kick off.
Faithful Place is a good read and an interesting story for anyone looking to understand the complexities of a country whose failing economy forced generations of young people into desperate choices. In 1989, Ireland lost over 70,000 people (2% of its population) to emigration — one of those young people being my husband. French takes on that history without flinching, bravely digging into the social problems that widespread poverty creates. Frank tells us that in 1985, every job had at least twenty applicants – and that his chances went down to nothing once he listed his address. As always, with French, this attention to time and setting gives us so much more than a typical murder mystery, but readers looking for a whodunnit with a big reveal are likely to be disappointed. This just isn’t that kind of story.
The beautiful writing and thoughtful narrative of Faithful Place has me already shopping for her next novel in the series, Broken Harbour. My reviews of French’s earlier Dublin Murder Squad books,In the Woods and The Likeness can be found here and here.