Irish author Tana French has written In the Woods, The Likeness and her most recent novel is Faithful Place. I read In the Woods a few years ago and liked it, but would definitely rank Faithful Place above it. I also have The Likeness on my bookshelf, but the description of Faithful Place looked more intriguing so I decided to read them out of order. Both In the Woods and The Likeness involve Dublin Murder Squad detective Cassie Maddox, though Faithful Place only centers around Frank Mackey, a Dublin Undercover Squad detective. Some reviews I’ve read indicate that Mackey has a role in The Likeness as well, which ties the characters together, even though the books are not part of a series.
The title Faithful Place refers to the street where the detective Mackey and his family grew up. French describes the houses almost like row homes with steep front steps and square backyards separated by stone walls. The neighbors live in close proximity to each other and it’s not uncommon to hear each other’s arguments, conversations or TV’s, and gossip spreads quickly down the street. Most families have lived here for generations and might work at the Guinness factory if they’re lucky or move from job and job to make ends meat.
When Mackey’s in his late teens, he decides to leave home (and his “ma,” who defines tough love, alcoholic “da,” and four brothers and sisters) and run away with his girlfriend and neighbor Rosie Daly. He and Rosie arrange to meet outside late one night but then Rosie never shows. Mackey finds a goodbye note in a vacant row home next door where the neighborhood kids meet to drink, “snog,” etc., and he assumes Rosie intended to break up with him so he leaves town without her. In the following week the neighborhood assumes the two of them ran off together, when neither Mackey or Rosie return home.
Over 22 years, Mackey remains estranged from his family, but for keeping in touch with his younger sister Jackie. Then one night Jackie calls him in a panic when Rosie’s suitcase, complete with her birth certificate and their ferry tickets, is found in that same vacant row home where Mackey found her note. Mackey returns to Faithful Place to find out why Rosie left the suitcase behind, while facing his family and memories of his childhood and Rosie. Obviously with a few hundred pages of book to go, the answer to this question isn’t simple.
As far as mysteries go, Faithful Place is captivating and smart, and just when you might guess the next step in the plot, you’re likely to find out that you guessed wrong. I really liked Mackey as a main character, and loved how French created a very believable set of characters around him, from his parents and siblings, to his daughter and ex-wife, and other members of the police squad. The novel is as much about the mystery of what happened to Rosie Daly as it is about Mackey returning to his family and dealing with the consequences of his decisions in the past and present.
All three of French’s books are set in Dublin, Ireland, and it made Faithful Place all the more fun to read, having been a tourist there recently. She includes an Authors Note at the end of the novel, saying Faithful Place did exhist at one point in Dublin, though it’s gone now and in the novel she “dropped” the neighborhood in a different part of town for the sake of the story. She also writes like many of the locals talk, so you can almost hear what they’re saying, with phrases like, “Ah, Jaysus,” “About fecking time,” and “I’ve bet the shite out of a lot tougher than you.”
While Faithful Place is a long, in-depth mystery, I found plenty of reasons to like it. French’s writing is smart, has personality and she writes beautiful descriptions of places, people and emotions. While it was a robust read as far as mystery novels go, I appreciated the plot and all of it’s details. I’m excited to read The Likeness next!