Tana French has been a cut above from the word go. Her haunting debut In the Woods left no doubt in my mind that a distinctive new voice in crime fiction had spoken up, demanding a fair hearing, and though French's next novel had its issues - perhaps The Likeness was a touch too Murder She Wrote in the belief-beggaring mystery of coincidence at its core - nevertheless its was a gripping read, so taut and thrilling and refreshingly character-driven most longtime crime writers would have stood to learn a thing or two from it.
Well you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Faithful Place in French's best yet, and by a country mile. With a brilliantly conflicted new protagonist to come to grips with, and a grim new neighbourhood with its very own closet full of skeletons to explore, the Irish import of the hour ably breaks away from the pack, delivering an unabashedly heartfelt portrait of a people, a place, and a time.
Twenty years ago, Frank Mackey planned to escape Faithful Place with his gorgeous girlfriend, Rosie Daly. The son and the daughter of two tight-knit families at war with one another over a long-forgotten grudge, these star-cross'd lovers had hoped to run away from the estate, to take off towards the bright city lights of London and never return. In secret the pair packed their bags, arranged with great care a rendezvous point from which they would stage their daring flight, and bided their sweet time.
But come the appointed hour, there was no sign of Rosie. Frank waited for her the whole night through... but nothing. And with the dawning of the next day came the dawning realisation that the love of his life had stood him up. Rather than coming crawling back to the Mackeys, with his tail between his legs, Frank resolved instead to forge on with the plan, such as it was.
The one that got away has been the bane of his existence ever since, so when Frank - an undercover detective now, working for the Dublin police force - when Frank gets wind of the discovery of a suitcase filled with Rosie's things stuffed up the chimney flue of Number 16, Faithful Place, and returns home to hear tell of a rank smell as of rotting rats in the same abandoned building shortly after he and the Daly girl were presumed to have run away together, he must face the very real possibility that twenty years ago, Rosie met a markedly more awful fate than the life he has imagined her living ever since: murder.
As dark as anything Tana French has written, as fraught with cruelty, loss, and the corruption of quiet hope, Faithful Place is yet an indelibly endearing novel. Charming in a thuggish sort of sense, say like Jason Statham coming home for a cup of tea, and funny in the way a Glasgow kiss might be, if it went badly wrong - as so often such things do - Faithful Place will surely grab you from the get-go, disarming you with its warmth and its humanity, disturbing you with its brutal honesty, and insight.
It's somewhat off-kilter as far as crime fiction goes - but then this author has made that style of narrative her stock in trade - and perhaps French can be a little over-verbose when directness is all such-and-such a moment demands, but these are niggles... nothings, really, next to the fabulously alarming way your heart will pound when inevitably, Frank confronts a killer.
Faithful Place is crime fiction at its very finest. A tragic tale, brilliantly told... loving but bittersweet... and told with such prescient truth that you'll be a mess well before the end: the latest from Tana French? Superb.