Novels in a series rarely seem to get their full due, either separately or as a whole, until the whole series has been written and the author has declared there will be no more. Tana French has been one of the exceptions to this rule, as her novels each stand alone as great works in their own right. Each novel centers around a detective squad in Dublin that investigates murders and each installment takes a character from the previous one and designates them as narrator. This is a strategy that plays to French’s strengths in constructing unique voices and nuanced characters. There are now six books, all of which feel both at home and misplaced on the Mystery shelf.
French excels at complicating tropes that have been grotesquely simplified. Her detectives have painful pasts and personal lives that drive and influence them on the job yet are not something they can shrug off and get the job done. The murders and the detectives who investigate them are intricately tied, each case something only they could work and solve. The trope of the grizzled detective with a dark side and an addiction to alcohol, coffee, and pain is familiar to the purveyor of mystery both on the page and on the screen. But here we are only shown one case from each detective’s perspective. They are given one story to narrate and no more. Thus, we get the one case that was pivotal to each individual career and life. This gives the victims as much import as each detective, elevating both.
Her latest, The Trespasser doesn’t dig into the gut quite as much as the other books in the series do (I was practically paralyzed on public transportation trying to read The Likeness). Each of the previous novels has a pivotal reveal- a gut punch moment that French always times perfectly. This one felt as though French pulled that punch just a bit; it’s odd to lament feeling unpunched.
There’s more to be gained from reading the series in order, although you certainly could read them randomly if you are some kind of chaos monster. The second book, The Likeness, borrows heavily from The Secret History. If you felt as ardently about that novel as I do, The Likeness will be very much up your literary alley. As should all of her books be. Enjoy!