MYSTERY READERS will scoff at my “discovery.” They’ve been following author Tana French since her debut novel, In the Woods, was published in mid-2007. But late last year, French’s name started popping up on my friends’ Facebook pages. Friends who wouldn’t describe themselves as mystery readers. Friends who are genre snobs and who, with an air of haughtiness, say — or, pre-French, said — “I don’t read mysteries.”
I admit it: I was part of that group. I even owned and gave away review copies of In the Woods and French’s second novel, 2008’s The Likeness. But a mystery-writing friend pushed me to give the genre another look. One day at an airport shop, I picked up In the Woods. It had a pretty cover.
Hello, new favorite contemporary author! And, as the genre snob in me was pleased to discover, though French’s stories are anchored by crime, therefore earning their “mystery” billing, they could also live quite comfortably on literary-fiction shelves.
“Initially, I didn’t think I was writing mystery. I thought I was writing fiction with a mystery framework,” says French, who lives in Dublin. “But then a friend in publishing explained gently that you have to shelve it somewhere. But it’s a great time to be writing mysteries. There are a lot more people experimenting with what you can do within a mystery novel. It doesn’t have to be pure Agatha Christie.”
Like her first two books, French’s latest, Faithful Place (Viking, $26) centers around characters who work in (her fictional version of) Dublin’s police department. Unlike traditional mystery series, which follow one crime solver who seems to trip over new crimes every time he or she steps out of the house — look, there’s a dead body in the rose garden! — French’s narrators get just one or two turns at the helm. “I think every character has one crucial moment within their lives, and that’s what I’m writing about,” French says.
Faithful Place’s protagonist — Frank Mackey, who first appeared in The Likeness — goes in search of a long-ago love that disappeared. The story won’t just grip you; it’ll make you pipe up and proudly say, “Oh yeah, I read mysteries.”