Wednesday 26 July 2017

Review: Murky past is captivating from the start

Faithful Place Tana French Hachette, €14.99
Tana French proves beyond doubt she is an author of exceptional insight and talent, writes Margaret Carragher

Margaret Carragher

In 2007, Tana French's award-winning debut novel In the Woods propelled her from obscurity to the upper echelons of the New York Times' best-seller list.

Her second novel The Likeness quickly followed suit. Now, with Faithful Place, French copperfastens her reputation as an author of exceptional insight and talent.

"In all your life," goes the prologue's opening line, "only a few moments matter. Mostly you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they've zipped past ... I was lucky ... I got to see mine face to face, and recognise it for what it was ... "

In a single paragraph, the reader is captivated.

A key player in Dublin's elite undercover police squad, narrator Frank Mackey looks back over more than 20 years to the single event that has shaped his entire adult life.

Desperate to get away from his horrendously dysfunctional family and start a new life in England, the teenage Mackey packed a rucksack one grey December evening in the mid-Eighties and sneaked off to rendezvous with the young love of his life, Rosie Daly, at the top of the street where they lived on inner-city Dublin's Faithful Place.

All night, he waited for her at their agreed meeting place, but Rosie didn't show up. And Mackey never heard from her again.

Fast forward through more than two decades, during which time Mackey joins the police force, marries, divorces and is now juggling the role of father to a nine-year-old girl with a highly demanding career.

He has long severed all ties with his family, his youth and his old neighbourhood -- until another grey December day, when a phone call from his sister turns Mackey's world upside down: Rosie Daly's suitcase -- the one she'd packed to run away with him more than 20 years previously -- has been found hidden behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place.

Its discovery forces Mackey to revisit his old neighbourhood haunts and review his theories about what happened on the night of Rosie's disappearance.

Through the prism of hindsight, the seemingly unequivocal message she had left him back then is now riddled with ambiguities.

Was it meant for him at all? And if not, who was the intended recipient?

More sinisterly, the discovery of ferry tickets among Rosie's belongings suggests that, contrary to Mackey's long-held belief, she didn't flee to England after all.

So where -- if anywhere -- did she go? With mounting dread, Mackey returns to the crumbling old ruin on Faithful Place, where he and Rosie shared their first kiss, and where her suitcase finally turned up.

In the basement, half buried beneath years of mould and dirt, a pair of man-sized concrete slabs arouses his suspicion. When finally they yield their grisly secret, Mackey is forced to revisit a time in his life he'd sooner forget; only by confronting his old demons can he ever hope to escape them.

Over 434 pages, sprinkled with excerpts from The Rare Ould Times and The Ferryman, French leads her readers through the bitter rivalries, explosive rows and simmering resentments of a dysfunctional inner-city Dublin family, masterfully capturing its essence.

Even without the evocative lyrics, her sense of place is faultless; as indeed is her style.

Sunday Independent

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