The Trespasser
Tana French
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The Trespasser
Tana French
464 pages
October 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on The Trespasser.

French’s latest will have particular appeal to readers who enjoy the gritty internal workings of Dublin’s Murder Squad. Although I thought the novel was far too long and too dialogue-driven, French shows that she’s right on the pulse, molding an intricate police procedural into a careful meditation on the cost of loyalty. Central to the story is the new partnership between Murder Squad Detectives Antionette Conway and Steve Moran, and their arch-nemesis, Detective Don Breslin, who thinks he’s “Mr. Indispensable” and is willing to show up just as fast for a “shitty domestic” as he would for “a skin-stripping serial killer.” Conway’s immediate challenge is the smooth-talking Breslin’s proclivity for shouldering in on her cases while also making just about anyone believe he’s on their side.

The plot kicks off when the Murder team are called to Number 26 Viking Gardens. The victim is Aislinn Murry, who apparently fell and hit her head while her “Lover Boy panicked and did a legger.” There’s no weapon and nothing that can be fingerprinted or linked to a suspect. Aislinn has head injuries and seems to have been punched hard enough that the left side of her jaw is “a bloody purple lump.” There was no one else at home and no sign of forced entry or burglary. Beyond the stifling heat of the kitchen with its stink of cooked meat and scented candles, Conway and Moran notice that Ailsinn had tidied up, as though she were expecting a dinner date. After the initial forensic examination is wrapped up, Conway has little to go on. It’s as though Aislinn’s life was like a “picture in a glossy magazine.”

The preliminary door-to-door reveals few clues. Breslin proceeds to muscle in, determined to view the case as a “slam-dunk lover’s tiff.” Lucy Riordan, Aislinn’s best friend, seems uncharacteristically scared, unwilling to talk to Antoinette and Steve. Lucy remains wary, as though Aislinn’s life had taken all of her focus. Rory Fallon, Aislinn’s boyfriend, becomes the prime suspect. Pounded by shock and grief, Rory collapses under the weight of Conway and Breslin’s cross-examination. The detectives aim to get to the one place where Rory’s story cracks and peels: the half hour between Rory getting off the bus and knocking on Aislinn’s door. Convinced of Rory’s guilt, Breslin is clear that he wants the young bookshop owner “to be done for.”

From the first chapter, French sets the tone of the novel, drawing us deep into Conway’s gruff and crude first-person persona as she finds herself fighting with bad cops and good cops and cops out for their own careers. The bad cops are more often than not misogynistic and abusive, which creates a seismic rift in the workings of the Squad, causing the focus of the investigation to shift: “it wasn’t about me being a woman, it’s about deciding who would be the alpha dogs and who would be at the bottom of the pile.” The stakes are raised and the level of tension heightens. While Conway knows she’s a good detective, her gender and race still haunt her, as well as nights disturbed by the reoccurring notion that certain members of the Murder Squad might just be out for her blood.

Antoinette’s antenna goes up when she overhears Breslin telling Detective Joseph McCann Aislinn’s name, then confiding certain details regarding her murder. Armed with a subconscious warning signal that something awful is coming, Conway and Moran begin the search, hoping to find any evidence that Breslin is bent and that McCann is somehow tangled up with Aislinn’s case. The pulse of the incident room is palpable, “everyone taut as greyhounds at the traps.’ Breslin seems determined to stick with Rory as Aislinn’s killer, even when there’s no real motive, except perhaps that his romance with Aislinn might have gone bad, or that his tough financial circumstances drove him to commit the ultimate act of violence.

The report of a strange guy climbing over Aislinn’s wall; the media labeling the Murder Squad as a “shower of incompetent wankers” who don’t care who they lock up; Lucy’s shocking confessional that Aislinn had “got good” at tangling people in her stories and building a relentless current that drew them deeper and deeper towards the ending only she could see--all of these twist into the elaborate web of Conway’s investigation. Conway prays that her most interesting leads will crash and burn, and that both Breslin and Moran--the last two stubborn and unruly hands--will be unable to prevent her from tying everything into a neat and clean bow.

While some of the interrogation scenes are a bit too long, they are also full of dynamic dialogue and powerful revelation. French makes a concerted effort to show us exactly how the police actually go about the mechanics of their intense cross-examination of the suspects. It's an extraordinary achievement when you consider interrogation room scenes are now commonplace in so many British police procedurals. Nothing is black and white, no one is immune from corruption, and there are no clear lines between right and wrong. Every chapter brims with the changing perspective of the characters, especially French’s decidedly post-feminist Antoinette Conway, a distinctly modern woman who shows us that the stereotypical role of the perfect policeman is totally unreal in this imperfect and often violent world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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