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Friday, September 10, 2010

Faithful Place, by Tana French (hardcover, $25.95)

Like a set of nesting dolls, each book by Tana French contains the seed for the next book. Frank Mackey, the police detective/hero of Faithful Place, was a second banana in The Likeness. The heroine of The Likeness was similarly a secondary character in In the Woods, French's first book. Each book, however, has a very separate identity, tied together only by French's moody lighting and characteristic plot twists.

What makes Faithful Place very different from the other two is a realism grounded in French's characterization of a dysfunctional lower class Irish family. Her dialogue jumps at you with the tang of neighborhood slang. The brothers and sisters of the Mackey clan are like your own brothers and sisters -- for the most part. (They are dysfunctional, after all.) Their "da" is a raging alcoholic, their mother a hectoring victim who spreads guilt thickly among her children. There are ancient hurts that impinge upon the collective family nerve, some of which are raked back into the light by Frank Mackey's return to see his family after a 22-year absence.

That's right, Frank has not been back to see his family for 22 years. If he had lived far away, it would have been one thing, but Frank and his family all live in Dublin, Ireland. Frank has had contact with his younger sister, the ameliorative and sensitive Jacinta, nicknamed Jackie. She is the only one whom he will allow his daughter, nine-year-old Holly, to meet.

Frank and his girlfriend, Rose, were 19 and 20 and living with their families when they decided to run away to London. On the night they were to steal away from their houses set on the street called Faithful Place, Rose failed to meet Frank. Frank left by himself that night, but he didn't go to London. He moved to another section of Dublin and on to an eventual career with the police department. Frank returns because Rose's suitcase has been found, stuffed up a chimney in a deserted house on Faithful Place. Soon after, Frank is instrumental in finding a skeleton in the basement of the same house -- Rose's skeleton.

Faithful Place is a beautifully written story of a family in perpetual crisis. It's also the story of a tight-knit community pounded by an economic depression, straight-jacketed by religious strictures, bound by family rituals and obeisance to the family "da" who may rule, as in this case, with an iron fist and unholy temper. French's fine depiction of the family personalities draws the reader in, and her story of the underlying romance will break the reader's heart.

Both In the Woods and The Likeness were slightly fey and had a touch of malicious enchantment to them. What did happen to Rob Ryan in the woods in the first book? Why was Cassie Maddox so readily accepted in place of her doppelganger in the second? There is a surreality overlying the scientific and investigational elements. Faithful Place, on the other hand, feels real, as expressed by the family and in the crime and its poignant resolution.

P.S. My money is on Stephen Moran, a young detective Frank enlists as a "mole," as the star of the next novel.

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