“All crime novels are social novels,” says Laura Miller in her recent article “Try To Remember” in The New Yorker, an article devoted to Dublin-based mystery writer Tana French (Oct. 3, 2016, page 72). Unlike many articles in The New Yorker, this one cuts to the chase. Says Miller, “Most crime fiction is diverting; French’s is consuming.”
As one recently consumed by French’s latest, The Trespasser, I identify.
Crime novels at their best have the reader tiptoeing between fantasy and reality. As details and red herrings pile up, it often is difficult to keep up with them. There are unreliable witnesses. Details become muddled as various characters weigh in with the investigators telling stories that don’t match up. And, as anyone who has read French’s novels knows, often the least reliable witness is the narrator, who is swept up not only in the case, but also in his or her issues, prior conditioning, and emotions.
French’s tales, Miller tells us, have strong elements of the gothic, “a fictional mode that, at its best…scrutinizes the boundary between the inner self and the outer world and finds it permeable.”
No one navigates these muddy waters better than Tana French. In The Trespasser, Antoinette Conway and Stephan Moran (late of The Secret Place) are assigned a case where the victim has been murdered in her home, presumably by someone close to her. As the only woman on the murder squad, Conway is a distracted detective. She feels herself persecuted by her peers, and she has plenty of evidence to back this up. Pee in her locker, spit in her coffee mug, missing documents from her desk. She suspects anyone and every one of her peers. She is upset, angry, and paranoid.
And there is a murder to solve. Conway and Moran are pretty certain their prime suspect didn’t do it. Yet it would be so expedient to close the case and make everyone happy. Especially when you are on the verge of quitting what has become a crap job.
Ah, the dilemma. The inner self and the outer world. The game that is afoot has a lot on the line, and even more the deeper the reader goes into the novel. The Trespasser managed to drive me crazy for several days. I hope you all will give it a read.
Books recently released in time for the holiday season include several of my other favorite mystery writers.
Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning finds Inspector Gamache in the thick of it again, this time as he takes on the clean-up of the Surete du Quebec’s training school. Penny’s battle of Good versus Evil centers itself in the small village of Three Pines. Not on any map, this location is, in its own particular way, as special and fantastic as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. To me, Penny’s novels have become allegories, their characters timeless and ageless and rooted in an untouchable realm. And yet, like Hogwarts, Three Pines is touched by Evil. There is magic here, unlike any other mystery series you will ever read.
Craig Johnson is back with his latest Walt Longmire novel, An Obvious Fact. I am about halfway through it, and continue to love the series even as it seems to grow predictable. Vic is not around for this one, which means there aren’t as many laughs. But the wild Wyoming landscape and its cast of colorful characters always prove to be bigger than life.
Waiting on the shelf is Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed by Alan Bradley. There is no more delightful an investigator in the genre than the young Flavia de Luce–intrepid bicycle rider, snoop, and expert in poisons. While this book could appeal to a much younger audience, I am always captivated by Flavia, her adventures, and what a real kid she is despite her solving of grown-up crimes.
Happy reading, all!