Posts Tagged ‘Dublin Murder Squad’

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I do enjoy Tana French. Her writing style is simultaneously lyrical and languid, full of synaethesia; and, at the same time, credible and realistic.

And this, her second novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series, is a delight!

I love the way that it follows seamlessly on the heels of In The Woods and Operation Vestal – the investigation into Katy Devlin’s death in thst debut novel – was a ghostly presence throughout. But French switched narrators from the unreliable and, for me, uncredited Rob Ryan to his erstwhile partner, Cassie Maddox. 

And a small detail dropped into In The Woods becomes a critical plot point here: Maddock had worked in Undercover before she had transferred to Murder. In this novel, she is brought back to being undercover when the corpse of a girl who looks exactly like her is discovered. It is improbable. It stretches our willingness to suspend disbelief a little – but then French’s books always have that touch of the otherworldly about them anyway. She’s not wedded to the purely credible and mundane, which sets her apart from many crime writers. And as the dead girl was using an identity – Lexie Maddison – which Cassie had invented to go undercover with, her old boss Frank Mackey was called in and, through him, Cassie was brought in to go undercover as the dead girl. It’s nice to see Mackey again: a slightly clichéd to-hell-with-the-rules detective who bulldozer his way into the investigation, just as he does in The Secret Place.

The dead are often a very visceral lyn solid ground point in a detective novel: they are static, they are probed and opened up and explored. Here, Lexie Maddison is as ephemeral as the wind and as fluid as water: we only see her once before Cassie steps into her shoes and we unravel hints of an intriguing mercurial – and probably damaged – character. Impossible to grasp or to capture, flowing through the fingers of each character who tries.

And when Cassie does pick up Lexie’s life, we are introduced to another of French’s trademarks: an impenetrably close group of friends with whom the dead girl had been living and who Cassie has to infiltrate. Just like the cliques of girls in The Secret Place, the depiction of Lexie’s friends – Abby, Rafe, Daniel and Justin – is thrilling and enticing and unreal and so tempting. Living with each other in Daniel’s inherited manorial house, distant from both the local village and other students at Trinity College, they are impossibly and intimidatingly close. 

The other vast character in the novel – perhaps the biggest and most significant character – is Whitethorn House itself. The house in which Lexie and her friends live. It breathes and moves and speaks just as much as any other character. And its fate is perhaps more tragic than those of any of the others. The house is part-commune, part-home, part-sylvan fantasy, part-fairy tale castle and part-fortress and it looms over the whole novel carrying it’s own tragic and toxic history.

And when a writer like French has a character tell us that he heard a dead girl’s voice coming from the house, I’m less likely to dismiss it than with other writers.

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This is my second Tana French novel, and it was her debut with the Dublin Murder Squad series. And I do enjoy her writing style.  

 We have here, ostensibly, a crime novel. A twelve year old girl, Katy Devlin, is discovered dead on the altar stone at an archeological dig. Detective Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are dispatched to investigate.  The usual trickle of evidence (interviews, autopsy, forensics) leads to the perpetrator. There is a further complication: the site where Katy Devlin is discovered is the same place that, twenty years earlier, Ryan and his two best friends disappeared. Only Ryan was recovered, with blood on his shoes and no memory of what had happened to him. 

The novel dips into both cases and they butt against each other. At times, the two cases seem utterly unconnected, save by coincidence; at other times, there’s the suspicion that there may be a direct causal connection. 

What sets French apart from other police procedurals for me, having read a sum total of two of her books – which may not make it a reliable observation – is the intensity of the relationships she creates. Ryan and Maddox’ relationship has a similar intensity to those of the girls at the boarding school in The Secret Place. Somewhere between an incredibly intense brother-sister relationship and lovers. Which, when put like that, sounds rather uncomfortable if not unhealthy! They work together day-in day-out, share food on most nights, a bedroom on occasion, secrets, intimacies and confidences. Each shares an utter confidence in the other and would probably work to exclude everyone else. At times, they came across as beautifully tender together; sometimes we shared the good humour of their bickering. Often, they came across as very immature – acting closer to 13 than 30 but that may reflect more on my stuffiness than anything else – and, to be honest, annoying and not always wholly convincing. The relationship which was growing between Detectives Conway and Moran in The Secret Place was more credible. 

I also struggled to find Ryan a credible police officer: he was clearly incompetent. He should never have tried to – nor in the age of both physical and digital fingerprints, been able to – disguise his background from the police. A victim, witness, or possibly a suspect, in one case, should not be investigating a second case where his main suspect was also suspected in his own abduction. As a narrator though, I quite enjoyed his lack of reliability. 

Another key marker of French’s work seems to be the supernatural, the wildness lurking behind our tame, rational and safe world. Again, for me I love that. Again, it was very apparent in The Secret Place and much less so here (possibly a result of stronger editorial control over a debut novel) but there are occasional hints of something ancient and other stalking the woods. 

Personally, I’d have liked a little more of that side of the story. 

With regard to the resolution, I found the identity and motive of the killer (or killers to avoid spoilers) just a little convenient. And the final outcome … well I’ll leave it up to you to read and decide whether justice was served and whether that appealed. For me, the clear-cut re-assertion of order and justice at the conclusion of typical crime novels is a little too neat at times. So I quite enjoyed the conclusion.