Tana French’s The Trespasser

“That feeling…it lives inside of you somewhere deeper and older and more real than anything else except sex, and when it comes rising it takes your whole body for its own. It’s a smell of blood raging at the back of your nose, it’s your arm muscle throbbing to let go the bowstring, it’s drums speeding in your ears and a victory roar building at the bottom of your gut.”

 

Ever since reading her debut novel In the Woods, Tana French has been a long standing favorite of mind. I have read all of her novels, and for the most part, have loved every single one of them – although, her third novel, Faithful Place is still my number one favorite.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of French’s novels is how she takes a secondary character from the previous one and creates her next story around them. You get to know more about that character, see them in a different light, and your feelings about them change – sometimes.

In The Trespasser, however, she pairs the same two detectives and puts them in the forefront once again. The murder seems to be your basic lovers’ quarrel, but as Moran and Conway get deeper into the case, they soon realize that the evidence and prime suspect doesn’t line up. The victim, the suspect, the murder squad…nothing is as it seems.

As with all of French’s novels, she brings you along for the ride with the detectives as they try to solve their case. The theories that they believe you believe, until a new theory arises, and a new one. French keeps you holding on with her beautiful descriptions until the very end, when you come to realize who it was all along.

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The Trespasser, Tana French.  Viking Books, fall 2016.

Tana French’s The Secret Place

“It hits her at the bus stop, in the cool-edged morning air. At first she thinks she actually is sick, that what she’s doing has called down some curse on her and now all her lies come true. She hasn’t felt it in so long and it tastes different now. It used to be vast and dark-bloody; this is metallic, this is alkaline, this is like scouring powder eating through your layers one by one. It’s fear. Holly is afraid.”

 

As a huge fan of Tana French’s work, I was extremely excited for the arrival of her fifth novel, The Secret Place, preordering it months in advance of its recent publication. For those who are unfamiliar with her work, I’d like to say that French is unlike most of the writers out there. Not only is her writing amazing, but her novels as a whole are as well. She has a way with language and story telling that is truly atmospheric and at times haunting. More than once have I gone to sleep after reading one of her novels and woken up in a fit of panic. They’re just that good. Although she tries a somewhat different approach in her newest novel that I am less than fond of, the core of her remains the same.

The Secret Place tells the story of a murder that happened at an all girls’ school, and the investigation of it a year later. Detective Stephen Moran is brought back as the main character (this time) who leads the investigation, as well as Holly Mackey and her father Frank – all of whom were in French’s third, and arguably best novel to date, Faithful Place. The novel opens with Holly paying a visit to Detective Moran at the Dublin police department where she produces a photograph that she found on a bulletin board at her school, St. Kilda’s. The photograph is of Chris Harper, the boy who was murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s the previous year. And there is a caption. It reads: I Know Who Killed Him. Moran brings the new evidence to Antoinette Conway, one of the detectives who had originally worked the case. Together, they return to St. Kilda’s in hopes of finally solving the murder…but are they too late?

How far would you go to protect your friends, knowing that they were somehow involved in a crime? Would you stay silent forever, or would you find a way to get it out in the open, to once and for all uncover the whole truth? These are the questions that circulate from beginning to end in The Secret Place, questions that ring true for many of us. We befriend others who we have things in common with, and, as our bonds deepen, our loyalties toward them increases as well. But…how far would you go? Some say that no line exists for true friendship, but that is just not possible. There is always a line. Told in alternating narratives between past and present, French weaves a tale of friendship where loyalty is so strong that it is the only thing that stands in the way of solving the murder.

 

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Tana French – In the Woods and the as Yet Unwritten Sequel

As my Tuesday evening class comes to a close, and my final project/presentation is on the horizon (tonight), I wonder, what if.  What if my book idea for my project came true and Tana French wrote the book that her fans have been waiting for?  I know that it’s kind of a dorky wish, but I would be ecstatic!  I really would.  Haven’t you ever hoped beyond hope for one of your favorite authors to write the book you know everyone wants to read?  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Tana French’s first book, In the Woods – which won several awards including: the Edgar Award, the Barry Award, the Macavity Award and the Anthony Award – tells the story of Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, who work on the Dublin Murder Squad together.  They are assigned to a case involving the murder of a young girl whose body is found in the woods-turning-archaeological-dig on the outskirts of Knocknaree.  Twentyish years before that, three kids were playing in the same woods when two disappeared.  The “sole survivor” was found clinging to a tree with blood filled sneakers; that kid being none other than Rob Ryan.  He never regained his memory and his two friends were never found.  Oh, and also, no one knows that Rob is the kid from that case except for his family and his partner Cassie.  Could these two cases be related?

Throughout the novel, we become lost in French’s prose; she’s a fabulous writer, definitely in my top five, perhaps even top three.  We follow Rob and Cassie as they attempt to solve both mysteries – even a chilling (to me) scene where Rob decides to camp out in the woods overnight alone – alone with his thoughts, trying to bring the past to the foreground, and with the murderer for the current case still on the loose.

As I’ve said before, this book kept me up at night, even going insofar as giving my nightmares which culminated in my waking up screaming in the middle of the night and turning on all of the lights in my apartment.  But despite these things, I love her books.  Also, it should be said that I am a bit of a scared-y cat.  I jumped out of my seat several times in the theater when I went to see M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, resulting in my friend laughing at me and my renewing my vow to never watch horror movies.  I am aware that The Village is not actually all that scary, but I wanted to give you a sense of how easily I get scared.

Back to In the Woods.  The end of the book left more than a few readers disappointed and dissatisfied, myself included.  While the murder of the young girl is eventually solved, the other mystery, the one of the two kids, the one that intrigues us more, sadly, is not.  Tana has come out with three more books since then, but none of them have helped shed light on the mystery that I so desire to be solved.  Even my coworker, the one who introduced me to her work to begin with, refuses to pick up another one of her novels until the events to this mystery are brought to light. 

Enter my idea for her long awaited sequel and my project entitled, Back to the Woods.  In it, Tana would bring back her first two characters, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, who haven’t spoken in the five years since the last case that tore them apart.  Rob had all but given up on ever solving the mystery of his friends’ disappearance.  One day, he is going through boxes of stuff at his parents’ house, and he comes across a clue, something that had been overlooked for years.  Things start clicking in Rob’s brain and he starts having flashbacks of a childhood he had long since buried away.  Those flashbacks and that clue are what drive Rob to break the years’ long silence and contact Cassie.  After all, she was the one who had stood by him and supported him as he had tried to open up the past before.  This clue and those flashbacks could be the key to actually solving the disappearance and probable murder of his friends, the one that has been haunting him throughout his whole life.  It is the reason why he pushed Cassie and everyone else in his life away.  With the help of Cassie, Rob goes Back to the Woods in an attempt to answer long sought after questions and release him from the past.  The woods may have been destroyed, but that doesn’t mean that the answers aren’t there.  Rob has been living with them ever since, and maybe now he will have the courage to dig deep enough and let it all out.  But, in a twist to the story, because it wouldn’t be a Tana French novel without a few, Cassie is hiding something from Rob.  Could she have had the key all along?

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 Of course, that is only my idea.  As of now, this book doesn’t exist, but what if it did…wouldn’t that be nice?  I would run as fast as my feet could take me to the bookstore and pick up a copy.  Perhaps one day…

My Love for the Detective Novel

I never thought that I would be one to love reading detective novels. Sherlock Holmes comes to mind, the author James Patterson, to name a few. They always follow the same formula. There’s a good guy and a bad guy (though, sometimes the who-is-who, is not always established from the beginning) and there is a crime that was committed that needs to be solved. I am also not a fan of the main-stream novels, you know the ones that everyone reads by those authors that just seem to be able to crank out an innumerable amount of stories. When I was younger I was envious towards them. I couldn’t understand how they were able to write so much when I had trouble finishing most of the things that I started. As I read more and more of these novels though, I came to realize that I didn’t envy them after all. Their bodies of work were plentiful, but they were mediocre at best. They were all practically the same with slight variations. If you’ve read a few books by any of these authors, you’ve read them all. I realized then that I didn’t want to be one of those writers; I’d rather spend half my life cranking out one great story than to mindlessly author many.

That was when I became a book snob. Aside from reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was widely popular in its day and truly brilliant, I set out to read novels that weren’t so well known or read. I can pretty much guarantee that if you were to name all of the books on the most popular list of the moment, I have maybe read one. Not to say that they are terrible and should not be read, I just feel that there are more that are far better that are hardly known.

When I was in college, out of all of the English classes that I took, there were only two that I loved. They were both very different in their content and approaches to learning, but they both gave me something that, had I never taken them, I might never have discovered that I loved. The first was a class on Victorian literature. There, I learned that that was my favorite time period of literature. I loved reading the long descriptive paragraphs about life back then; just the way that the words were used; I cannot to this day find anything as appealing to me. The second one, entitled simply Dreams, I loved far more. The literature in that class wasn’t focused on a specific time period, but rather pairing great works of fiction with dream theorists and of course Freud was there. Instantly I fell in love with Freud. I didn’t necessarily agree with most of what he wrote, but it was the way he wrote them. The novel that I am currently reading, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, is a leftover from that class that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few years. It’s a psychological mystery, which I will go into at length when I have finished it.

It was in that Victorian literature class that I came upon the first detective novel ever written, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It is told through multiple narrators, where the reader learns little bits and pieces until finally the conclusion comes. Who knew that with one great work of fiction, a whole genre would be spawned. Although most people may not have heard of him, we all have Collins to thank for this.

Another thing to know about my book snobbiness is that I am not a fan of American literature. There are a few pieces that I do love, for example F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, most of American literature I find boring.

A few years back, a friend of mine at work handed me Tana French’s debut novel, In the Woods. He loved books just as much as I did and with the exception of a few that I couldn’t focus on enough to sit through, he hadn’t steered me wrong. In the Woods is of course a psychological mystery (aka a modern phrase for the detective novel, a sub-genre if you will). It starts off with a group of kids that went into the woods surrounding their community one night and only one of the three made it back. The other two disappeared, never to be seen again. Jump forward decades into the present and that one kid works on the murder squad and there is a murder in those very same woods. French is brilliant at creating this energy that really grips the reader insofar as to clench at your core. When the main characters were overcome with sadness, I cried…when they were scared out of their wits, I screamed. Needless to say that when I found out that Tana French had come out with a second novel, I flew to the bookstore and purchased it immediately; the same went for when she came out with her third.

I have never had a story effect me so much as I did with Ms. French’s. I would literally come home from work and plop myself on the couch, staying up way past the time that I should have, just to read her words. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, my heart pounding rapidly in my chest and my body in a cold sweat, turning all of the lights on in my apartment because my mind had continued to subconsciously circulate the passages that I had just read. The same thing would happen the next night and the next until I had finished each novel. I laughed at myself for having such a strong reaction.

The other two of Tana French’s novels are entitled The Likeness and Faithful Place. These, along with In the Woods, are brilliant works of fiction that should be read. I am anxiously awaiting her fourth novel, which has yet to surface. Did I mention the French is an Irish author?