Most mystery-series authors write a book a year at the behest of their publishers.
But since the success a decade ago of her acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad debut In the Woods, Tana French has written and released a new Murder Squad mystery only every two years, straight through to the release this month of The Trespasser, the emotionally charged and intellectually satisfying fifth book in her series.
Thanks certainly to French’s skill as a writer, but no doubt as well to the two years she takes to write each of her mysteries, the Irish author’s tales sparkle with assured effervescence. French’s first four Murder Squad mysteries feature suspenseful story lines, intriguing characters, enjoyably colloquial dialogue, and enough arresting-yet-plausible plot twists to satisfy the most demanding mystery reader. The Trespasser offers more of the same only better for the simple reason that its plot is set deep within French’s fictitious Dublin Murder Squad, pitting against one another several of the squad’s hypercompetitive detectives, all of whom harbor dark secrets and murky pasts.
The bulk of French’s latest installment takes place in the form of in-station interrogations and dialogue between squad detectives — in lesser hands, hardly scintillating stuff. In The Trespasser, however, the action scenes that spice the average murder mystery are hardly missed. Rather, the interplay between the squad’s detectives is chockablock with conversational nuance and shifting suspicion, bearing readers easily and relentlessly through the story.
In addition to her every-other-year book-release pace, another of French’s commendable novelties is that, rather than feature the same sleuth for her entire series, the Irish author keeps her books fresh by selecting a different squad detective to lead the reader through each of her tales.
The Trespasser is told from the first-person perspective of insecure Dublin Murder Squad detective Antoinette Conway, who dreamed her promotion to the squad would be different. Since joining the squad, Antoinette’s work life has been a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and ongoing harassment. She’s close to the breaking point when she and her partner are handed a case that looks to be yet another straightforward lovers’ quarrel gone bad. The victim, Aislinn Murray, is blond, pretty and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner with her prime-suspect boyfriend.
But the murder doesn’t want to stay in its by-the-numbers box. Other squad detectives push Antoinette to arrest the boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy someone lurking at the end of the young detective’s road. A friend hints that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And as Antoinette digs into the case, everything she learns takes the victim further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be, and closer to a pair of increasingly suspect Murder Squad detectives.
Dangerous currents are flowing beneath the squad’s shiny, polished surface. It’s up to Antoinette and her partner to trace those currents, no matter how deep into the squad they may lead.
Tana French’s latest shines with two years of writer’s polish itself. For those new to French, reading The Trespasser likely will result in binge reads of her four earlier Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, too — as well it should.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of eight books. Yellowstone Standoff (Torrey House Press), the third installment in his National Park Mystery Series, was released in June. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.