Things around here were more like they used to be than they ever had been.
This is the third in a series of novels French has written about crime and the damaged people who investigate it in Dublin. The first two were both nothing short of masterpieces; In the Woods and The Likeness aren’t just great genre novels, they’re great works of literature full-stop, grim and unflinching explorations of psychological and emotional damage set against murder investigations. This one is . . . a step down from the first two. It focuses on Frank Mackey, an undercover guru, who played a small supporting part in The Likeness. French’s theme is always about the inescapability of the past. Whether it’s a suppressed memory of a childhood trauma (In the Woods,) a fake identity from a previous undercover case (The Likeness) or the discovery that the girl you thought dumped you and ran off was actually murdered all those years ago (this one), the past in a French novel is like a dangerous animal, always on the trail, ready to do serious damage when it catches up to its prey. In this book, Mackey has to return to the neighborhood where he grew up, Faithful Place, when evidence surfaces that indicates that the girl who broke his teenage heart didn’t really take off on her own the night they were supposed to run away together. The way this realization reshapes Mackey’s entire worldview is neatly handled, but the book is a bit more traditional in style and tone than the previous two books. This one fits the most comfortably under the genre label and French’s style is significantly tighter and terser. It does fit with the character, but it also robs the book of a lot of the visceral emotional impact of the first two books. The book gets into clichés in the area of Mackey’s family; of course, a big part of Mackey’s return to his old stomping ground is his reconnection with the family he’s carefully stayed away from for years and this all plays very stereotypically. The book isn’t bad at a stretch; there are still wonderful scenes here and there and when Mackey allows himself to actually feel his pain instead of denying it, the emotions that marked the first two books are certainly in evidence. But this is no masterpiece and it’s not up to French’s usual standards. Here’s hoping for a return to form in her fourth novel.
tl;dr – novel doesn’t live up to French’s first two masterpieces and doesn’t transcend its mystery genre in any serious way, but, despite the clichés, there are a lot of good things here. 3 stars.