Where the body is buried

SPOILER ALERT: In this review of Faithful Place, I’m going to talk about how the book ends. I usually shy away from that when I talk about books. It’s my hope that people will actually want to read the books I write about, and often knowing the ending can keep people from picking up the book. If you are that sort of a person, suffice it to say that Faithful Place is a compelling murder mystery about lost love and the dark places that only family can take you. You should go read it. Otherwise, you have been warned.

Tana French’s Faithful Place, the third book in the loosely related Dublin Murder Squad series, is a literary mystery. I haven’t read the first two books — this one sort of fell in my lap — but it didn’t matter. The main character, Frank Mackey, is introduced in book two, The Likeness, where he has a minor role. Or so the coworker who recommended Tana French tells me.

The first thing we learn about Frank is that he’s a divorced undercover agent and he tries very hard to be a good dad. The second thing you learn is that his high school sweetheart, Rosie, who he thought stood him up decades ago, was actually murdered. It goes downhill for Frank from there.

He travels back home to Faithful Place, which he’s avoided since he thought Rosie left without him. Frank has been heartbroken for twenty-two years and it shows in all of his personal relationships. His ex-wife saw it from the start and as the reader sees both how vividly he remembers every detail of Rosie and that he’s never really loved anyone else since.

I kind of read the book in dread. Once some workers find Rosie’s suitcase in an abandoned house, Frank knows she never left. And if she never left with her suitcase and the ferry tickets and no one ever saw her around the neighborhood again, she has to be dead. I had to wait with Frank, sitting on a stoop across from the house, for the police to find the body. I felt every minute of it, but the writing was beautiful. It’s not the kind of book you stop reading unless you have a very good reason.

As Frank works around the murder squad detectives, I almost felt like I was a step ahead of him. I didn’t necessarily know what each person he interviewed would say, but I saw where it would lead. I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to love Rosie just a little less, to think more about the good in life and less about events that no one could change. Through his searching you see his love for Rosie and his painful associations with his family. He’s kept in touch with his younger sister Jackie for years, but no one else even knows he has a daughter. His brother Kevin, four years his junior, always worshiped Frank. Even though everyone else in Faithful Place hates that he’s a cop, Kevin is still in awe of his big brother.

Shay and Carmel, the two oldest siblings, have lived a very different life than the younger three. With a mostly unemployed, always alcoholic father and a mother willing to blame the kids for the drinking, no one had a happy childhood. As you read along you see how hard Shay tried to protect his siblings from the abuse. He was the one who got hit, the one who quit school to bring in money, the one who stayed home so Carmel could get married and so someone would be around to watch the young ones.

Tana lets you feel Shay’s frustration at the discovery that nineteen-year-old Frank was running off to London with Rosie. Shay was finally supposed to be free. It was Frank’s turn to protect Kevin and Jackie like Shay had protected him. Finally the eldest was going to be able to have a life and it was slipping through his fingers.

You see, Shay never meant to kill Rosie. He thought he could convince her to make Frank stay. But his anger got the best of him. And while there’s never an excuse for murder, I felt for Shay in the end the same way I felt for Frank in the beginning. Tana takes such good care of her characters that the “bad guy” tugs at your heartstrings just as much as the “good guy.” She’s smart enough to know that in a fucked up family situation, no one comes out smelling like roses. The smell of Faithful Place never left Frank and now he’s stuck with far too much knowledge of what happened the night Rosie never showed.

There’s more that I won’t tell you. (Yes, there’s more! Go read it.) I wished the father had done it instead of the brother. He was the one flat character and I could have easily pinned everything on him. Even Frank’s mother had some sympathetic qualities, but his father was black-hearted all the way through. Tana gives him a backstory trying to explain some of the anger and bitterness but it fell short for me. He lost the girl he loved and settled for his wife. As far as the sympathy angle goes, it works more in the mother’s favor.

In the end the book was powerfully written if not a little too heart-breaking. I recommend it to anyone who likes their mystery books to have a little soul. My coworker promises that her other books aren’t as dark. Although what could match a brother killing his sibling’s girlfriend and hiding the body for twenty-two years? I think this is a set of books that I’ll need light-hearted fluff to read in between so I don’t get too disappointed with humanity. I’ll still love every word.

Kelly Hannon works in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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