This book is one of the examples why I love reading crime fiction. There are many authors that I could describe as dependable, we know what to expect when we pick up their books and usually it’s very decent entertainment. But every once in a while you come across a book that refreshes the whole genre for you. And this is an example of such a situation. While I was in Cyprus in October, before the UK got locked down again I read my way through several crime and thriller books: The Winner by David Baldacci, Camino Island by John Grisham, Run Away by Harlan Coben, Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré and The Whistler by John Grisham. As much as I enjoyed all of them it was only le Carré that really stood out because of its weird suffocating atmosphere. The rest was pretty much a run of the mill crime writing.
And then I came across this one, not having read anything by Tana French before I didn’t know what to expect. Other than it’s a long book, but then I had time so decided to jump in. Our narrator, Rob, is a detective in the Murder Squad. But there was a time in his life when his name was not Rob, but Adam, and when he was twelve years old two of his best friends mysteriously vanished in the woods, while Adam was found by the Gardai covered in blood. To this day he does not remember what happened and he has not shared this information with his colleagues, apart from his partner Cassie.
Rob and Cassie have been partners for the past few years and get along very well. To a point that it makes the whole squad suspicious that they are a couple. One day their boss brings in a new case, a twelve years old girl has been murdered, before Rob has any chance to react Cassie volunteers them for the case. Only to find out the murder took place exactly where Rob aka Adam was raised and lost his friends. The case makes them follow many turns and dead-end leads. A motorway is to be built across an archeological site where Katie’s body was found and her father leads the movement against it. Not to mention some of the archeologists who are ready to go to all lengths to protect the precious site. Then we also have a bunch of corrupt politicians and of course the mysterious vanishing of children at the same age from the same place twenty years ago.
Rob and Cassie dutifully follow up on all the leads. But what happens at the same time is the gradual disintegration of Rob’s personality. He is telling us this story from the perspective of time, but it is a painful retelling. His mind erased the event that effectively defined his life and he does not know if he wants to remember it. He desperately wants to know what happened to his friends but there is also a dread lurking.
At the same time, he falls under the spell of Katie’s older sister, Rosalind. He suspects their father is abusing his children and wants to help Rosalind at all costs. He does find out about an old crime committed by the father, which only makes his suspicions stronger.
Tana French manages to weave all those strands together beautifully. Building a sense of dread and almost suffocating suspicion. Wherever we look with Rob there’s a criminal lurking, always looking just like a typical person, but evil nonetheless. With Rob losing his bearings the atmosphere becomes gradually more and more oppressive. And we can only watch this helplessly, just as Cassie is, until the situation reaches its bitter end.
This one is truly a gem, with a very distinct voice of Rob permeating the book. We get here a great plot, multidimensional characters with fascinating backstories, and atmospheric writing that keeps us turning pages. What French achieved here is well beyond ‘dependable’ it’s a true pleasure to read.