‘Faithful Place’ by Tana French

Faithful-Place

Fiction – Kindle edition; Hodder & Stoughton; 448 pages; 2010.

I have Irish writer Tana French to thank for getting me out of my recent fictional reading slump. I read this novel, her third, in just a couple of days and found it enormously entertaining if slightly over-written — and over-wrought — in places.

Faithful Place is a crime thriller, but it doesn’t feature any of the main characters from her previous two novels — the police procedural In the Woods and its sequel The Likeness. It’s a completely stand-alone work of fiction, but the story does tread similar territory in that it focuses on a murder investigation in modern day Dublin.

The investigation gets under way when the suitcase of a woman once believed to have left Dublin for England 20 years ago mysteriously turns up in an abandoned home. The contents, which include her birth certificate, have not been disturbed. Does this mean she never left the city? And if she didn’t leave, what happened to her?

Enter undercover cop Frank Mackey, who has an exceptional interest in the case: the suitcase belonged to his girlfriend Rosie Daly. Twenty years earlier the pair had been planning to run away together, but Rosie never turned up to their agreed rendezvous point, 16 Faithful Place, and Frank assumed he’d been unceremoniously dumped. It is something he has never quite come to terms with.

Frank, who is a bit of a maverick, is not officially on the police case, but this doesn’t stop him from carrying out his own inquiries on the sly. What emerges is a portrait of a complicated man, who has unceremoniously ditched his working-class roots to pursue a career as a garda. But despite going up in the world — he marries a nice middle-class girl, whom he later divorces, and has a beautiful daughter — Frank can never quite let go of his troubled past.

His off-the-record investigation means re-establishing contact with people living in Faithful Place, the street he grew up on and thought he’d left behind. This includes his over-bearing mother, his alcoholic father and his four siblings. Then there are Rosie’s childhood friends — and Rosie’s judgemental parents.

I’ll admit there are elements of this story which are a bit soap-opera-ish, and Frank’s voice doesn’t feel particularly authentic as a male (he’s far too sappy about Rosie, for a start), but this doesn’t take away from the sheer enjoyment of ploughing through this book to find out what happens next. There are lots of unexpected plot surprises, and the story of Frank and Rosie’s teenage past, told in a series of seamless flashbacks, is nicely done.

What I like about French’s writing style is her ability to nail life in modern Ireland so perfectly you really feel as though you’re sitting in a Dublin pub having conversations with old friends. She gets the politics, the corruption, the consumerist lifestyles and the class divides down pat, but does so without making it seem contrived.

And her ability to write dialogue is also pitch-perfect. There are scenes in this book between squabbling older siblings which have a genuine ring of authenticity about them, perhaps a skill she has developed from her life in the theatre (she trained as an actor at Trinity College). Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Faithful Place wasn’t adapted for the screen at some point, because it would make a good film, complete with the over-the-top, sort of unexpected and not wholly believable, ending.

And while the book could do with a good edit (it’s at least 100 pages too long), it has an intelligence rarely seen in big commercially successful crime novels. French knows what makes people tick, she knows the inner-most secrets of big rambling Irish families, and she knows how the places we grow up in shape our lives and personalities.

In a nutshell, Faithful Place is perfect fare for those who appreciate good solid storytelling with a twist at the end. For me, this is the kind of comfort read that gets me out of the bookish doldrums with a jolt.

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16 thoughts on “‘Faithful Place’ by Tana French

  1. I’m now reading a sample chapter of ‘Faithful Place’ that I downloaded to my kindle- so far I’m really enjoying it. I also downloaded a sample of ‘The Hangman’s Daughter’ set in 17th century Bavaria-the writing is really good and the story is interesting but the gruesome details are too much for me.

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  2. I completely agree about French being an author who can kick you out of a reading slump. I think I read this one while going through a mild one myself, and even though I’d say it’s probably my least favorite of her books, it was still so good! Let’s hope she gets a new one out soon!

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  3. I reviewed The Likeness the other day, and though I agree when it comes to the weaknessess, I was also absorbed in it from the very first chapter. Good to have this one to look forward to (and also Hypothermia which you reviewed yesterday).
    It is not quite correct that she doesn´t recycle any characters, however. Frank Mackey runs the undercover operation which Cassie Maddox is involved in in The Likeness.

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  4. I just finished this the other day and agree with most of your review. It’s a great read, but just a little bit on the flabby side at times. Tana French was probably my favourite find of 2010 and, while this isn’t her best, I still really enjoyed it. Given she’s a crime writer, her characters are always so vivid I actually miss them when the book ends.
    I’m not sure I agree about Frank not sounding male enough though. His mushiness over Holly reminds me of the way a lot of men I know get about daughters (particularly only children who are daughters) – but your mileage may vary.

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  5. I think it always helps to read an author you’re familiar with when you want to get out of a slump. If you know what to expect, it helps a lot. I also agree this probably isn’t her best work, although I liked it better than The Likeness. My personal favourite is In The Woods, probably because it just felt refreshingly different as a crime novel when I read it a couple of years ago…

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  6. A-ha! I did wonder if Frank Mackey had made a previous appearance in her other novels. I could have easily checked too, as I’ve just remembered that my copy of In The Woods is here in Oz (I gave it my sister in Abu Dhabi to read, and then she passed it onto my dad to read when he visited her in November and he brought it back home with him.) My copy of The Likeness, which I read last January here in Oz, is also here as I left it behind for my dad to read!! Talk about keeping books in the family!
    Anyway, I’ll tweak this review — thanks for letting me know.

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  7. Flabby is a good word to use. This novel could definitely be toned up a little without sacrificing any of the plot or characterisation. But a great read nonetheless.
    I didn’t mind Frank being mushy over his daughter, it was more his sappy feelings about Rosie, which seemed over-done to me, particularly as it was 20 years ago and a lot of water had gone under the bridge since then. I also had a problem with the male voice in In the Woods, which seemed over-played. But maybe that’s just me being overly sensitive, and knowing that the author is female? I’d like to see French write the next novel in the third person — it might help alleviate this problem…

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  8. “A comfort read that gets me out of the bookish doldrums” – sounds perfect! Thanks for the review – I’m going to look for this one at my library tomorrow.

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  9. I’ve bought “Faithful Place” and really like it.
    Oliver Pötzsch, who wrote “The Hangman’s Daughter” is a descendant of one of Bavaria’s dynasties of executioners.

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  10. I enjoyed this book too, Kim, but not as much as The Likeness (btw Frank is Cassie’s boss in that book) but I still really enjoyed it. I read the whole thing with an Irish accent in my head as she made me feel like I was there in Dublin with the characters.

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  11. This does indeed sound like quite a treat Kim! After ‘In The Woods’ I wasn’t too sure I could give French another whirl, the ending didnt work for me though I know it did for lots of other people, but this one could be rather tempting!
    Glad it pulled you out of the fiction dolldrums, I hate those!

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  12. Simon, this one has a more traditional ending than In the Woods — you actually find out who the culprit is! In some ways the conclusion’s a bit over-the-top, but it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the rest of the book.

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  13. I really need to hurry and read this book. I liked In the Woods, but struggled with the ending, and then loved The Likeness. I am sure I will like this one too, when I get to it.

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