Tana French's mystery Faithful Place, part of the Dublin Murder Squad series, is a testament to how a well-crafted narrator's voice elevates a good mystery into a memorable, engrossing read.
A vivid, distinct voice, with a realistic syntax, can transport the reader right next to the narrator wherever he or she takes us, whether it's in a raucous bar or sitting quietly in a darkened room, listening only to the protagonist's thoughts.
French does this effortlessly.
Within the first several pages, I found myself half in love with Frank Mackey, the Dublin Undercover detective who pulled himself out of Faithful Place, a street in a neighborhood whose residents perpetually teeter precariously near poverty. Where Mackey grew up.
There, Mackey grew up with in a mercilessly dysfunctional family, surrounded by a brood of siblings all trapped in the cruel grip of an alcoholic parent and unstable -- but certainly Catholic, mind you -- mother.
Mackey escaped by attempting to leave with his girl...and when she didn't show, became a cop. Coming from Faithful Place, this is a betrayal of sorts not easily forgiven and never, ever forgotten.
French conveys this without ever overtly stating it, just one of many examples of how she uses Mackey's distinct narrative tone to communicate unspoken context.
Another example is the way the reader learns of Mackey's upbringing, told out of chronological order through well-crafted flashbacks. These scenes create sharp, lingering pictures of a complex childhood that fall into place like shards of a broken mirror.
Yet for all that, French still peppers the story with sharp wit and warm, comforting scenes of a father caring for his daughter.
The story, like the people within in it, is not simply one thing. None of the characters or ancillary story lines are simple. Mackey and his siblings' childhood may not have been idyllic, but there are moments, though few, of love and family fidelity. His neighborhood is not the sterile suburbia he attempted to live in with his ex-wife, but it has a code and social moorings of its own.
Finally, the personal nature of the mystery -- the body uncovered in the basement of an abandoned house that Makey and the other kids on the street used as an ad-hoc hideaway is the body of the girl he was going to elope with -- adds a welcome element of personal investment and frustration to the story that elevates the building tension.
As I said, I haven't read any of the other books in this series and have avoided looking them up for fear of spoilers, but I am eagerly looking forward to doing so. But the novel more than stands on its own and shouldn't be passed over, even by those who are not interested in picking up another series.