Two Tana French novels

Some spoilers follow, but not the whodunit or exactly why.

I think Tana French must be chalked up as one of those writers whose writing I can admire, but whose storytelling doesn’t suit my reading tastes.

Until recently, I’d heard great things about Tana French’s books, but never got around to reading her.  I did manage to buy a couple of her books at the UBS, but they sat in the TBR pile for ages; one of them still sits there.  B&N had a sale and I had a coupon, so I bought a copy of French’s new release, Broken Harbor, for a little less than half price, and began there. (Which may have been a mistake? Perhaps this is an author best read in order.)

I found the writing to be extremely good, and narrator’s voice to be gripping.  Kennedy is a hard-nosed cop, a cliche in some ways.  He’s got a pretty jaded worldview when it comes to being a Murder Detective, but it seems to have worked for him in the past because he’s got a good solve rate.  The set up of the central mystery here is pretty universal following the financial crash of 2008: it could be set in Ireland or Spain or Florida or Southern California. A family is found dead in a nearly empty, failed development that crashed with the real estate market.  The whodunit…I figured out early on, but still enjoyed the steps of the procedural.

What I struggled with is the treatment of mental illness through out the novel.  It is an illness.  It needs to be treated, not shoved under a rug or “fixed” by well-intentioned family who don’t know what they are doing.  On one hand, that’s what creates the internal and external plots of the book, and without it there is no book.  But as a reader, that being the ultimate causation for the plot is depressing.

 

French’s The Likeness is another police procedural, murder mystery.  Also tightly written with an engrossing first person narrator.  The whodunit is narrowed to a group in the beginning, so the mystery is more about unpuzzling the victim and the group than anything else.  The difference here is that the narrator is incredibly unreliable and unstable (IMO) to the point that the wrap up of the murder is a cheat.  For all the narrator’s discussion about the value of truth, she spent a fair amount of time lying to everyone, including herself, and twisted the truth out of recognition.  As a reader, I don’t trust that narrator and don’t find her sympathetic or empathetic.  I’m not sure I’d be interested in reading more procedurals with her as lead, and feel sort of sorry for her fiance in the ostensible HFN.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Two Tana French novels

  1. Well, the first book, In the Woods also follows an unreliable narrator. No surprise that the protagonist in The Likeness is also unreliable. I understand all the complaints about her storytelling flaws but I still enjoy her voice/style of writing. Her books aren’t mysteries really, they are more of a character study more than anything else. If you go into them expecting them to be a mystery then her novels will definitely not work for you and you will be disappointed. Her characters are rarely likable. I don’t think you’ve read her best effort which you can take with a grain of salt since two haven’t worked for you and other readers probably don’t agree – Faithful Place. I really enjoyed that one. I also enjoyed In the Woods but most folks hated that one and the ending fell apart.

    • I think I have Faithful Place TBR still, so I’ll try it. I really do love her writing, but felt let down (maybe? I’m not sure what the best word is) when I reached the end of each book. Because for all that the murder was “solved”, things felt unfinished.

      Actually, I was thinking but didn’t mention in my post that for all that the books are sold as mysteries, they are really much more about what’s going on internally with the narrator rather than the murder mystery. I considered the In Death series, which has a lot of personal stuff for Dallas but ultimately is focused on catching the killer in the end, and wondered if the comparison was fair.

      • that for all that the books are sold as mysteries, they are really much more about what’s going on internally with the narrator rather than the murder mystery.

        Bingo.
        And even for Faithful Place you will guess who the perpetrator is before the book is even halfway finished. I know I did. The characters in that book were memorable as was the protagonist, Frank Mackey.

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