I always knew I was going to drop everything to gulp Faithful Place down in one or two sittings. That’s just the way Tana French operates on me. And on a few other people as well. I try not to read reviews of books I’m going to be blogging about but I couldn’t resist reading Janet Maslin in the New York Times, and I imagine that’ll move a few thousand units.
So we’re all going to be very bummed, not because the book is bad but because it’s good, and it’s disturbing. Here’s the thing: I’ve been worrying recently (see the entry for Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs) about the toll these murder mysteries take on the detectives. They get seriously dinged up, physically and psychically. Tana French goes everybody one better, though: at the end of her books, the detective is so wrecked she can’t even use him/her again. This time around it’s Frank Mackey, who in The Likeness was head of the Undercover squad. Clearly, this is a man with a special line in duplicity. Actually, French has gone and imagined for him a past right out of an Irish play like The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Family dysfunction that would do your head in, as they say over there. “Da said, ‘Little whoremasters, the lot of yous.’ I think he meant it in a nice way.” That’s the way those Mackeys talked to each other. And that, children, is the teeny tiny little tip of the iceberg.
But Frank thinks he’s escaped the drink and the violence and the poverty and the unemployment. He left home, went to police college, married up, had a child. But he’s no good to Tana French just peacefully doing his job, so she curls a lash around his neck and yanks him back to Faithful Place where his family lives in the same house and the girl who jilted him 22 years earlier turns up dead. I haven’t given away much, by the way. That’s bad enough, but there are more and bigger emotional land mines waiting for Frank. Honestly, what French puts him through — I don’t know how you write this stuff.
So I’m going to think about something else. One of the qualities of The Likeness that I adored was its glamour. It has a real Rebecca vibe.So I was interested to read in the New York Times yesterday (OK, it’s my hometown paper, I read it very thoroughly sometimes) about a professor named Alice Friedman. She just wrote a book called American Glamour about modern American architecture. Here’s what she has to say: “So much about glamour is about aspiration and appearance, staging what you want to be, like Gatsby. …. and what is the true you, and will that be discovered?”
I would have said that Faithful Place was un-glamourous but using Friedman’s definition, I’m wrong. It’s actually the story of Frank Mackey ripping off his mask. Ouch.