Summary : Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen-year-old kid with a dream of escaping his family’s cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. But on the night they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank, now a detective in the Sublin Undercover squad, is going home whether he likes it or not.
Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.
DISCLAIMER – while this review does not contain any spoilers for the previous books in the Dublin Murder Squad series, there are multiple references to The Likeness. Just because. But mostly it has something to do with my undying love and flailing emotions. So feel free to play a game and pinch yourself or something every time The Likeness pops up.
After The Likeness, I wasn’t sure how I ought to approach Tana French’s next book. With much excitement, with some trepidation, or just take the plunge because French was unique writer with some of the best gifts from god for crafting characters? My expectations and love for French had grown immensely ever since reading The Likeness and I could not imagine how any of her subsequent books could compare, particularly when it came to leaving me in a puddle of emotional mess. Hence I chose approached this book with cautious optimism. Turns out I wasn’t wrong with my assessment.
First of all, Faithful Place was not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination. It was a very solid book from French and I derived much enjoyment from it. But it just wasn’t that electrifying combination of messed-up and uniqueness that was The Likeness, and that did colour my opinion of the book.
One thing that French experimented with was using of duo timelines to explore this particular story. I thought it was a very effective way of demonstrating why Rosie Daly was such an important person for Frank Mackey, both in his past and present. The two timelines also helped explain the acrimonious family relationship of the Mackey family, since everyone pretty much had a beef with someone at least for once. Most importantly, it was an excellent look at how Frank Mackey became the Frank Mackey that the readers were acquainted with starting from The Likeness. What I also appreciated was that French managed to make both the past and the present interesting and vital to the plot. Duo timelines are a tricky thing, often authors will use one of them as info dump and will purposely mislead the reader through the manipulation of the times. But I thought French did a fabulous job and this method of storytelling was actually the strongest part of the book for me.
Another great thing that French kept hinting was the whole concept of nature vs nurture. This theme slowly emerged for me throughout the read, and I found it very interesting as French seemed to provide valid points for both sides of the argument. Holly Mackey—Frank’s adorable daughter who was rather precocious—grew up in a relatively middle-class if not posh environment with parents who instilled certain values and morals in her, but there were streaks of deviousness that would creep up. Many other characters also have their own moments in regards to the past as well as the environment that they grew up in, and I found it to be an interesting subject to explore in a genre novel.
Finally, this book really ought to win a trophy for showcasing one of the most dysfunctional lower class families in fiction. I have read about families in poverty that still loved each other and stuck by each other, and I have read stories where families would act all kooky and would be slightly dysfunctional when it came to the authorities or the establishment. French introduced a whole new breed: the family that loved each other yet would devour each other in all nasty imaginable actions to drive each other insane. And by loved I meant it was a combination of family solidarity and duty as well as actual familial love, although both created very strong family bonds (for better or for worse). At least that how it looked from Frank’s POV, because I was never quite sure if I should still love the family. On one hand, they were family and they tried their best given the circumstances, but there were so many moments that I felt Frank was completely justified in running away from the crazy people that shared DNA with him when he was nineteen despite the fact that most of them treated him like one of their own when he reappeared. The conflicting emotions were so strong and so like an actual family. There were almost no warm fuzzy moments in the book, and the ones that seemed warm and fuzzy eventually adopted a rather sinister tone as the book progressed. Again, it was a contrast to what Frank wanted for his own daughter Holly, and that caused a lot of shenanigans and yelling matches and possibly nasty words along the way. French was always a master of creating atmospheric books, and this was no exception. The use of language and speech patterns for characters that came from Faithful Place were vastly different than the detectives and some of Frank’s more refined acquaintances, and I could see and feel the desperation that was coming from Faithful Place. Not the desperation that necessarily meant that everyone who came from it was doomed, but there was definitely a sense of being trapped in a vicious cycle and that it would require a lot of luck, hard work and cunning to actively escape from a life that was similar to one’s parents at Faithful Place, which I suspect how poverty would feel.
During my review for The Likeness I confirmed that French was the queen of building characters. While I would not disagree with this statement, I would like to assess it more carefully. Using the various concepts and techniques above, she managed to build another solid character that was Frank Mackey. However, I found myself less invested in Frank’s story than Rob’s or Cassie’s. It took me the longest time to pinpoint what was less enjoyable since Frank had his own host of problems that were probably even more messed up (as if that was possible for those that have read French’s first two books), but for me it was because Frank was super comfortable in his messed-up self. That was actually a great thing from a character perspective, since the character would be self-aware and comfortable in their own skin and totally owning it. Unfortunately it made it a less interesting read since anything that life or whatever/whoever threw at Frank, he would just toss it right back with a snarky comment and keep marching to his own diabolical tune. This also extended to the wide cast of characters featured in this book. The only character that I felt intrigued by most of the time was Rosie, Holly, and Kevin. Not to say that everyone else was dull as dishwater since they most empathetically weren’t, but it felt like French was trying to outdo her previous books/attempts by having a very large cast with all sorts of problems for nearly every single person. All the wackiness just became desensitizing and I could only stare at the cast as they continued to unravel what was left of the sanity of Faithful Place.
The other biggest weakness was the mystery itself. There were almost no red-herrings and I had correctly guessed who it the murderer was pretty quickly, even though I was joking to myself at the time. Still, this book felt less like a mystery and more like a book examining what a family and to a lesser extent a community would do when some hidden skeletons (including a literal one) surface after a number of years. There was certainly a lot more on the emphasis of the dysfunctional dynamics than the murder case.
It was still a solid read from French and I will continue the series with pleasure. It seems like another book will feature Frank Mackey and Holly again, and I look forward to seeing them as characters when perhaps they are not the POV characters.
Thanks for reading! Also, anyone still alive after all the references to the book that I Shall Not Mention Anymore But I Clearly Love?