Finding a new, great author is something I can only describe as akin to the best parts of Christmas morning, the first onset of fall, and the first long evenings of summer (before the humidity and mosquitos, of course). It fills a reader with such anticipation, gratefulness, and awe. I have certainly felt that. Anticipation tinged with sorrow once the new book is read, knowing the next could be years in the making. I read a post the other day (but now cannot remember whose – if it’s yours, message me) that the author didn’t really matter; the book’s the thing. That is true to a certain extent, but there’s so much more to that simple statement. Without the author, the talent, the simple touches that make the characters memorable, the ability to set a scene without describing it… none of it would be there.
A few years ago, when I first picked up In the Woods by Tana French, I knew I had found something special. I’m not a genre snob. A quick glance through my posts reveals a healthy mix of just about anything although my go-to book would be a good mystery. Though as Jenna Schnuer of the blog American Way says, In the Woods is “anchored by crime, therefore earning [its] “mystery” billing… [it] could also live quite comfortably on literary-fiction shelves.”
Tana French is just a damn good writer. I knew that from the first pages of In the Woods when I had to re-read a passage several times because it was so darn good. The Likeness followed, picking up on Cassie from the first book as she goes undercover. Her boss, Frank Mackey, is the central figure in Faithful Place, and although this book wasn’t my favorite of the three, my opinion of French hasn’t changed one bit. The book is gritty and ugly, and as I read, I knew it would only get uglier.
At 19, Frank, sick of his deadbeat drunk dad and loud, violent family, decides to hoof it to England with his girl, Rosie Daly, leaving his nagging Ma, drunk Da and gaggle of brothers and sisters behind. But as he waits in the darkness, he tells us “the night faded to a thin sad gray and round the corner a milk cart clattered over cobblestones towards the dairy, and I was still waiting for Rosie Daly at the top of Faithful Place.”
Twenty-two years later, Frank believes Rosie ditched him because of his embarrassing family and is now living in Dublin, the head of Undercover, divorced from his ex-wife Olivia, and picking up his daughter Holly for the weekend. When they get home, set to order pizza and watch a movie, Frank gets a call from his sister Jackie – his only link to the family he hasn’t spoken to in 22 years. Jackie tells him that the buildings up at Faithful Place are being gutted, and Rosie’s suitcase was found stuffed up the chimney. The hurt, doubt, and dread flood Frank, and he begrudgingly goes back to Faithful Place, his family, and everything he still resents.
As Frank says about Undercover, “you create illusions for long enough, you start thinking you’re in control. It’s easy to slide into believing you’re the hypnotist here, the mirage master, the smart cookie who knows what’s real and how all the tricks are done. The fact is you’re still just another slack-jawed mark in the audience. No matter how good you are, this world is always going to be better at this game.”
And that sums up the book. All the things Frank thought he left behind in Faithful Place roil up to meet him, and he’s sucked back into this sad place that doesn’t relinquish its occupants happily. Frank hates, truly hates, his father and Faithful Place. He got out early, but it has left an indelible mark on him and has touched every person who remains. The language, the dialect, and the trashiness of Faithful Place bring Francis Mackey back to boyhood, back to a time when the rules were different and squealing was a heck of a lot worse crime than stealing. Tana French doesn’t hide any of it, and she shows Frank’s dirty struggle between the life he knew and the life he knows now. Faithful Place has a healthy dose of reality and shows that there are some people willing to take the life they believe they deserve, while others will bitterly take the hand dealt with brutal consequences. The desperation of these characters is palpable, and I could almost almost understand the motivations to just get the hell out, no matter how.
Three days after the release of this novel, I sit here, feeling like a kid after the hoopla of opening presents and exploring the depths of my stocking, the reality that the day is almost over beginning to strike. I’m ready for next Christmas.