Detective Frank Mackey has been happily (more or less) avoiding his past for more than twenty years at the beginning of Tana French’s brilliant novel, Faithful Place. He’s a wizard at his work in the Dublin police’s undercover division. He’s divorced but still gets to have weekends with his daughter, Holly, and to spend the odd moment cheerfully annoying his ex-wife. But his relative calm is shattered when he gets a call from his sister, who tells him that a suitcase belonging to his first love, Rosie Daly, has been found at a derelict house back in his old stomping grounds. Shortly thereafter, Frank finds Rosie’s body in the basement of that house.
Those two discoveries send Frank back to all of the things he’s been hiding from for all those years. Underneath his undercover detective’s smoothness, Frank is deeply insecure about his family and his background. His sister is the only family member he still talks to. When we meet the rest of the Mackeys, after Frank starts to ask questions about the suitcase, it’s not hard to understand why. Frank is the middle child of a loud, violent, lower-class family and he carries what may be in the biggest chip in the world on his shoulder about it. His father is an abusive drunk. His mother is passive aggressive, with an emphasis on the aggressive. His older brother, Seamus, is no slouch in the biting comment department. In addition to all this, there is Rosie’s disappearance. On the night it turns out she was killed, Frank and Rosie had been planning to elope to England to escape their families.
Frank doesn’t stop his questions even after Dublin’s murder squad take over. He doesn’t trust them to find out what really happened in this coldest of cold cases, especially after Frank’s youngest brother, Kevin, takes a header out of the window of the same derelict house where Rosie was found and part of a letter Rosie wrote was found in his pocket. Kevin and the letter make a neat explanation for the murder squad, even though there are things that don’t add up about the case. Not only does he want to know what happened to Rosie and Kevin, Frank also desperately wants to know if Rosie left him waiting on the night they were going to escape because his family was so awful she didn’t want anything to do with Frank after all.
The mystery is expertly plotted, leading in all sorts of astonishing directions. But what I enjoyed most about the story was the way that Frank wrestles with the question of whether or not blood will tell in the end. He keeps his child and ex-wife as far away from the Mackeys as possible. He doesn’t want their taint to spread. He doesn’t want to become like his father or mother, ever, but he worries about his own temper and his knack for finding people’s weak places to exploit. Frank knows he as it in him to become like the worst of the Mackeys if he slips up. And, it seems, like proximity to his family might be working its evil spell: Frank brings all his skills at getting people to talk and do things they might not want to do to keep digging into Rosie and Kevin’s deaths. He is a master at manipulation, to the point where I felt uncomfortable with his Mephistophelian ways. For all that he claims to loathe secrets and lies, Frank appears to have a different set of ethics for himself. There are also scenes where we see Frank walk perilously close to the edge of violence and bad Mackey behavior.
I listened to Faithful Place as an audiobook. The narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds, uses a gentle Irish accent that I loved. His voice brought an already vibrant book to life. I stayed up far too late on Friday night (Saturday morning) through the explosive ending of the novel because I just had to know what happened next. I also had to know if Frank would ever be able to resolve his issues about his family and his roots in the lower class neighborhood of Faithful Place. I honestly can’t say enough about how truly excellent this book was.