Novel: The Trespasser by Tana French

Having completed The Trespasser (2016), I’m now caught up with Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad, a loosely connected series of addictive procedural mysteries set in Ireland. It is perhaps the weakest of the series, but it’s still pretty damn absorbing. Detective Antoinette Conway is a rarity on the homicide squad: a woman of color in a department dominated by white men. She feels constantly out of step, if not downright ostracized, by the boy’s club that surrounds her, the only exception being her new partner Stephen Moran, who made his way to the squad after his collaboration with Conway in The Secret Place. Working the graveyard shift, the two of them catch what appears to be an open-and-shut domestic homicide: an attractive young woman named Aislinn Murray, found dead in her apartment, apparently the victim of a spontaneous crime of passion. They have a slam-dunk suspect in Rory Fallon, an obsessive boyfriend who was clearly at the scene and struggles to explain his behavior. But they also have a meddling fellow detective assigned to work with them, whose sketchy “guidance” starts to make the duo suspicious that he may have a hidden agenda, possibly extending to more of their colleagues.

Like its predecessors, The Trespasser takes a chapter or two to find its rhythm, but soon accelerates into the kind of gripping, detailed mystery for which French is known. If I hadn’t been aware that it was the last book in the series, though, I might have guessed, based on Conway’s paranoid isolation and gradual disillusionment with her work. Was this an intentional attempt by French to deglamorize the police procedural drama she’d been happily, skillfully writing for six novels, in the wake of mounting concerns about real-world police behavior? At any rate, it does feel like a final lap around the track, and there’s perhaps some evidence to suggest it was time for French to move onto something structurally different. For the first time in the series, I found myself questioning the leisurely pace and lengthy, unrealistically detailed interrogations, wondering if things could be unfolding more efficiently. Even so, I read it straight through happily and with blazing quickness, enjoying the usual nuanced partnership dynamics and intricate tangle of suspects, each of them spinning stories not just to each other, but–in a deft thematic strategy–to themselves. This holds true for Conway, as well, who is clearly struggling with her idealized hopes for what life as a homicide detective might be, now that they’ve slammed up against ugly realities. One is left to wonder if Conway doesn’t stand in for the author, wrestling with the problematic ethics of modern policing and her role as an artist spinning alternative narratives about it. Or am I just idly speculating, Stephen Moran style? Anyway, in my view The Trespasser falls a touch shy of its predecessors, but it’s still a cracking good read, and obviously a complex and thought-provoking one that easily commands one’s attention. I’m definitely curious to see what French’s standalone follow-ups are like, and whether she’ll revisit the squad in the future.

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