I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m reader. Like, usually a book a week, or so. It’s how I relax and how I fall asleep at night. I usually read at night until my phone starts to slip out of my hand because I’ve fallen asleep and then I jolt awake and read a little bit more until I finally stash the phone under my pillow to charge for the night. (Sometimes, I write things down and it dawns on me that the thing I wrote is probably a bad idea. I should probably not sleep with my head on a charging cell phone all night, right?). I have a degree in English which means I do like the occasional dose of real “literature”, but my guilty pleasures are detective stories and mysteries. I took an entire semester long course on the “Canterbury Tales”, so I’ve earned my guilty pleasure. Funny aside, I also took an entire semester long course on the “The Faerie Queen” and never read the poem. True story.
I finally broke down and read “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn a few weeks ago and was searching for my next book when I stumbled upon a detective series by Tana French. I’ve read the first three, “In the Woods”, “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place”. I liked “Gone Girl”, but these three books are even better.
I’m drawn to books that have a setting that almost becomes another character in the story. I want to be able to close my eyes and picture myself in the story. Tana French does that for me. Each of the three books are set in different parts of Ireland, but all are close to Dublin. The first book is set in a small, modern neighborhood, the second is set in an old mansion and the third is in what would remind me of a neighborhood of tenement houses. Having read the three books back to back, I could see a progression in French’s writing when it comes to setting. Each setting is important to it’s respective book, but by book three, the neighborhood is nearly a living thing.
One of the best things about this series is that each book features a different detective. One book introduces the lead for the next, so each book is easily a stand alone, but if you are reading as a series, you have a familiarity with the characters already. And there aren’t any annoying synopses thrown in to catch up the non-series reader with what the characters did in prior installments. The characters in each book are complex. There aren’t “good” and “bad” guys. The lines are blurred; the heroes are flawed and you can nearly sympathize with the villians. French’s characters are as close to real human beings as any character I’ve ever read. And not only the main characters, the supporting roles as well. The dialogue feels real and while I can’t say that I know what colloquially Irish dialogue sounds like for sure, I would bet that it is right on. Each character truly has their own voice. There are nuances to each character’s phrasing so that you can recognize who’s who. And, again, there is definitely a progression from the first book to the third. By the third book, I grew very attached to many of the characters; good ones, bad ones, main ones and supporting ones.
Setting and characters are great, but, of course, they better have a good story to live in! And they do. I’ve read mysteries and detective stories where I’ve had to skip over brutal details because they were just too much for me. I don’t like that and I feel like it is a little cheap. Each of these books revolves around a murder, of course, but there’s no gratuitous violence. French doesn’t need it to capture your attention. She does it by spinning mesmerizing webs set over great spans of time. And making you guess, and second guess and then finally give up guessing and wait for the story to unfold.