Faithful Place (Review)

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Faithful Place
Tana French, 2010
435 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
February, 2013
James Joyce left Ireland in his 20s, never to live there again. Yet Ireland never left Joyce. One of his enduring themes was how the past entraps us, in particular the Irish—how it suspended them in a state of paralysis, unable to move forward.

Ireland's Tana French deals with much the same issue—just when they think they're safe, the characters in all of her novels are pulled back into the tragic events of their youth.

In Faithful Place, French's third mystery, new evidence forces Detective Frank Mackey of the Dublin Guard to revisit the disappearance of his teenage love. Rosie had abandoned him on the night of their planned elopement, and Frank assumed she had simply decided to begin her new life in England without him. It's a wound he's carried for 22 years.

But Frank, at 19, took off that night anyway. Though remaining in Ireland, he never returned to Faithful Place or his family, a wildly dysfunctional bunch that he wanted nothing more to with. Ever. Even now—especially now—with a daughter of his own. Nine-year-old Holly has no idea that her father has a family, and Frank intends to keep it that way.

But he's back in Faithful Place now, and as much as he might wish, he can no longer keep his distance from his family. A body is found, long festering resentments bubble up to the surface, and Frank finds himself forced to relive the events of his youth—events, it turns out, he misunderstood.

French is one of a handful of mystery writers who has moved the detective genre into literary territory: her books, while suspenseful, are character driven rather than plot driven. She takes us into the complex inner workings of her characters' psyches, highlighting their flaws, fears, and the certainties they grab hold of as if their lives depended on them (and often they do).

Frank Mackey is an undercover detective. He traffics in deceit, a way of seeing the world that spills over into his private life. Though he sees himself as honest and forthright in his personal dealings, he is as cunning as the agents he runs on the street. He puts his skills of manipulation and deception to work to get what he wants. But in the end, he destroys a part of his soul. And one is left to wonder whether justice, Frank's idea of justice, wins at the expense of goodness.

A secondary character in this book becomes the protagonist in French's next book, Broken Harbor. While also very good, I think Faithful Place is the better of the two; French has more control of her material here than she does in the later work. Read this book for its extraordinary story, solid writing, and fascinating philosophical questions. Book clubs should have terrific discussions.

See our Reading Guide for Faithful Place.

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