21 September 2016

Book Review: The Trespasser by Tana French

Just before dawn on a frigid Dublin night, a young woman is found dead in her sleek apartment with dinner in the oven, wine on the table and a fatal head injury. In Tana French’s new ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ novel, The Trespasser, Detective Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran are just finishing the night shift when they are called to investigate the murder. All the signs point to a lovers’ tiff and it should be an easy win for Conway and Moran but nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it seems for the Dublin Murder Squad.

If you aren’t familiar with French’s series, each book features a different detective from the squad in the central role and the protagonist is usually a minor character from the previous book. (If you haven't read any of the others in the series, you don't have to read them in order, although I find it more enjoyable to read them that way.) In the case of The Trespasser, the sixth in the series, we see the same two detectives as in the previous novel, The Secret Place, but with Conway assuming the role of narrator while Moran fades into the background. 

Conway is the only woman on the squad and tries to make up for the prejudices against her by acting twice as tough. She will never be ‘one of the lads’ and she has few friends and allies on the squad, Moran — a relative newbie — being one of them. Beneath her abrasive exterior, however, lies a passionate woman. Joining the murder squad has long been her dream and she describes it almost as though it were a lover: “When it’s working right, it would take your breath away: it’s precision-cut and savage, lithe and momentous, it’s a big cat leaping full-stretch or a beauty of a rifle so smooth it practically fires itself.” 

But as the events of The Trespasser unfold, Conway is more concerned with avoiding firing herself — or, at least, being pushed out of her job by the old boys’ network. This new murder may even be the last murder enquiry she gets to run and she is more determined than ever to prove her ability. Yet it soon becomes clear that not everyone on the squad is happy with the way she is handling the case but is that because someone doesn’t like her personally or because they are afraid of what she might find out?

Tightly focused around just a few wintry Dublin days, The Trespasser is precise and meticulous. The case unravels almost in real time and we get full, detailed interviews with witnesses and suspects from Conway’s perspective without summaries or exposition; no shortcuts are taken with the narrative. In the wrong hands, this could feel plodding, frustrating and poorly plotted but French is a master of suspense and I found myself wanting even more detail. For once, I had the mystery sussed early on in the novel, but French kept me second-guessing myself until the final act.

One of the aspects of the Dublin Murder Squad series that I have always enjoyed the most is the seamless weaving in of the lead detective’s back story. In this case, aspects of Conway’s past do come back to haunt her, but the links with the present case are more thematic here than usual. More interesting is Conway’s present-day power struggle with her fellow murder squad detectives; at times, I was more interested in finding out the outcome of that than of the murder itself. As usual, though, French does a good job of putting the reader inside the head of a character that she already knows and doesn’t necessarily like and make her, if not necessarily likeable, then at least somewhat more sympathetic.

The Trespasser is almost 500 pages long and although it isn’t a conventional page-turner (on the contrary; it’s dense and slow-moving), I found myself racing through to the end. My only frustration with finishing the novel is that I will now have to wait another two years for French’s next novel.

Disclaimer: The Trespasser will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on 22 September 2016. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own

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