Tana French has a method to her mysteries: While all four of her titles are standalone thrillers, you’ll get more out of each if you read them in chronological order because each book’s protagonist is connected to the next. Rob opens the Dublin Murder Squad series with In the Woods, his partner Cassie takes control in The Likeness, her former boss Frank Mackey narrates this, Faithful Place, and his nemesis colleague Mick Kennedy stars in last year’s Broken Harbor.
If you choose to take Faithful on the run (as I’ve done with all the French titles so I can attest that the miles fly by), narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds adds just the right tinge of sinister, properly paced throughout. Interestingly enough, Faithful is one of Reynolds’ first-ever audiobooks … and he happens to have lived a “somewhat parallel [life]“ with Tana French, complete with geographic overlaps.
Digression aside, what makes protagonist Frank Mackey an effective detective also makes him a difficult (impossible?) husband and father. He’s managed to maintain a civil-enough relationship with his ex-wife, and his young daughter still loves him, although even she is growing wary of his unreliability. When Frank’s younger sister urgently calls him home to Faithful Place, a harsh working-class Dublin neighborhood Frank escaped as a teenager and expected to never look back, he’s forced to return – literally – to the baggage of his troubled past.
That recovered suitcase is Rosie Daly’s, who more than two decades before was Frank’s unrivaled first love, who vanished on the very evening the young lovers had planned to abandon their stifling lives and start afresh in England. Rosie never showed up for their journey out, so Frank walked away alone, his heart irrevocably shattered and rendered incapable of true love since.
Then a body is found. And Frank faces searing loss – over and over again: even the torture of that never-healed cardiac wound pales to what he has to face when he re-enters the confines of his estranged family. ‘Dysfunctional’ barely describes his bitter parents and his left-behind siblings. But determined detective that he is, Frank allows little to get in his way solving the latest murders (yes, the body count doesn’t stagnate) – not his desperate family, and not even his precious little girl.
While the whodunit surprises keep the pages (or tracks) moving swiftly, the most intriguing narrative twists belong in Frank’s head. As with her two previous protagonists, French is a master of mental manipulation, creating complicated, unpredictable characters who demand attention long after the case files get stamped and stored. ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy – I’m coming for you next!