Tana French’s newest work is the eagerly awaited third installment in her Dublin Murder Squad series, though its primary focus lies elsewhere. Fans of her first two novels, IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS, will find their patience more than rewarded. FAITHFUL PLACE is one of those rare books that transcends its worthy genre and deserves as wide an audience as possible.
"Reading it from page to page is like walking into a dark room and receiving a sweet kiss followed by a swift kick, both of them unexpected in equal measure."
Readers of THE LIKENESS have already met the narrator of FAITHFUL PLACE in the person of Frank Mackey, an undercover officer with the Dublin police. The book begins in 1985 when 19-year-old Frank and Rosie Daly, living in neighboring tenements on Faithful Place, are head over heels for each other. The two plot to run away from their lower class families and neighborhoods --- Rosie from the prospects of a dead-end job, Frank from his horribly dysfunctional family --- and elope to London. But on the night they are to begin their new lives together, Frank is left alone, with only a bittersweet letter in hand indicating that his Rosie has gone on to London without him. He leaves home anyway, setting up stakes in a different part of Dublin and abandoning all contact with his family, except for Jackie, his younger sister. He becomes a policeman, marries, has a daughter, and divorces in the intervening 22 years, occasionally imagining his lost Rosie living a satisfying and fulfilling life in London.
Those thoughts change abruptly when, on a Friday evening approaching Christmas, Frank receives a call from Jackie, telling him that Rosie’s suitcase has been found behind a fireplace in an abandoned tenement on Faithful Place, where the young lovers were supposed to meet on that long-ago fateful night. Suddenly, everything that Frank thinks he knows is wrong. He is compelled to return home where the circumstances are not the same but worse, from his family --- his domineering mother, his brutal and alcoholic father, and his antagonistic older brother --- to the family homestead and the world within a neighborhood that, while never overly friendly, is now openly hostile to his position in law enforcement. Worse, the discovery of the suitcase is but the first tipping point in a series of events that not only present the past in a new light but also dramatically and irrevocably change the future, reopening old wounds and creating new ones.
Frank calls in the police and is warned off of the investigation --- after all, why would he not be a prime suspect? --- but he cannot let the case, or the past, or Rosie go. How could he? The reader not only comes to understand why he was so taken with this young woman, but also grows to love her as well. At the same time, he finds himself dragged into old family patterns in entirely new and dangerous ways. Thomas Wolfe wrote that “you can’t go home again.” Years later, Dion DiMucci stated in response, “Ha! Try to leave!” FAITHFUL PLACE demonstrates that both remarks are true.
I will remember FAITHFUL PLACE for a long time. The novel begins with a two-page prelude that could stand beautifully and easily on its own as a short story. And within the first 60 pages or so, it goes from poignant to hilarious to horrifying and back again, over and over. Reading it from page to page is like walking into a dark room and receiving a sweet kiss followed by a swift kick, both of them unexpected in equal measure. And what is perhaps the most impressive element of the book is French’s ability to present the frailty of human emotion in a setting unfamiliar to most, yet that seems to tap into a shared memory, the sweetness and sadness of love and life and loss, irrevocable and otherwise. Please don’t read this one in a hurry. It’s to be savored slowly and placed on your top shelf for re-reading.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011