Hello, everyone! I want to start by apologizing for the massive screw up with gifs on my blog over the past 2 weeks. I didn’t realize that if I deleted gifs from my media library, they would also be deleted from the posts. That seems like something that shouldn’t need to happen, but anyway, PSA: do not delete images from your media library! Don’t do it! It took me five hours to fix everything. Again, I repeat, don’t do it! This has been a PSA.
Plot synopsis: Irish detective Antoinette Conway is used to being pushed aside in the Murder Squad, so when she and her partner Steve Moran are assigned to the murder of Aislinn Murray, she assumes it’s another standard domestic. However, as the case continues, Antoinette and Steve realize that there is more to Aislinn, and her murderer, than they ever could have imagined. In order to solve the case, they’ll have to reconsider the values they hold dear, including the integrity of their own police force.
The Trespasser is Tana French’s 6th novel, and the second involving detectives Conway and Moran. She won an Edgar award for her debut novel In the Woods, so there’s no doubting that she’s a phenomenal writer, but for some reason, The Trespassers didn’t satisfy. For one, it pretends to be a lot more interesting than it actually is. The whole novel follows Conway as she realizes that Aislinn’s murder isn’t a standard domestic, but really, it is. Even with the added addition of the surprise killer, it’s still a standard domestic murder, and if you took out all of the backtracking and intentional obstruction by Aislinn’s friend Lucy, then the story would be like a humdrum episode of Law & Order. I know that detective novels are supposed to be full of confusing twists and turns that take the reader away from the mystery’s answer, but all of the novel’s twists and turns seem too purposefully distracting and not organic in the least. I felt more like I was following a bunch of “look here, this is a red herring” signs than reading a novel about the detective process.
And speaking of twists and turns, the amount of “tree shaking,” as Conway calls it, made me strongly question both Conway and Moran’s judgment. Half of the book is spent chasing down a fictional gang member who may or may not be Aislinn’s boyfriend simply because it popped into the detective’s heads and because a cop named Breslin dropped way too obvious breadcrumbs about being a “bent cop.” Part of this wild goose chase is due to the fact that Conway’s squad has been bullying her and she’s paranoid about their integrity, but a lot of it seems like a plot device that French threw into the novel to keep the novel from ending too early. Like I said, the mystery in The Trespassers is a pretty straight forward A ⇒ B murder with one or two detours thrown in. I think one of the book’s main problems is that French took a simplistic mystery like this one, which was really more suited for a novella, and tried to stretch it out into a 400 page book, and by doing that, sacrificed the intelligence of the detectives involved.
Plot problems aside, Tana French’s writing is quite good. She has a very unique syntax and turn of phrase. Having never been in Ireland for more than two weeks, I can’t tell if her casual Dubliner dialect is authentic, but it certainly is a fascinating dialect in its own way. Here is an example of her best writing:
I live inside my own skin. Anything that happens outside it doesn’t change who I am. This isn’t something I’m proud of; as far as I’m concerned, it’s a bare minimum baseline requirement for calling yourself an adult human being, somewhere around the level of knowing how to do your own washing or change a toilet roll. All those idiots on the websites, begging for other people to pull their sagging puppet-strings, turn them real: they make me want to spit.
Antoinette has some funny one-liners, but at times, French can take her whole cynical schtick a little too far. She trips over her own over-wordy sentences, like so:
I’m amazed this guy manages to get out of bed in the morning without working himself into a panic attack over the chance that he might trip on the bath mat and stab himself through the eye socket with his toothbrush and be left with a permanent twitch that’ll ruin his chances of landing an airplane safely if the pilot has a heart attack and doom hundreds to a fiery death.
Descriptively, that sentence is amazing, but it’s such an overwhelming run-on that by the end you can’t even remember how it started. There are a few other examples of French overdoing Conway’s cleverness, but overall, French’s style is compelling and makes the novel into an interesting read.
The high quality of French’s writing off-sets the lackluster plot, but there is one other factor that I think tips the scales towards The Trespasser being on the bad end of mediocre. The main problem for me in this book was Antoinette Conway. I get the tough cop act (is there any detective story that doesn’t feature a tough, cynical cop as its lead?), and I like the fact that French added a twist to the trope by making Conway half Brazilian, and therefore out of place in a blindingly white Dublin. The hazing done by her squad adds a special touch to the drama. That aside, Conway was so frustrating to read. She is one of the most judgmental, abrasive, paranoid characters I’ve ever read, with barely any moderate qualities to balance that out. She turns on a dime on people that she proclaims she trusts, like her partner Moran and her friend Fleas, and then a minute later is back to trusting them as if nothing ever happened. I do think she’s a well written character, but I hated being in her head. At least with depressed cops like Wallander and Harry Hole (my favorite crime detective, check him out!), they have enough faith in humanity to remain palatable. But Antoinette hates everyone and thinks they’re out to get her. For a character whose judgment you’re supposed to trust, this is off-putting.
Final Consensus: Tana French is clearly a great mystery writer, but The Trespasser lacks enough oomph to separate it from the pack. From an over-simple plot to a paranoid protagonist, the novel turns what could’ve been a fun mystery into a rambling plod. Read her other books, especially In The Woods, her Edgar Award winner, but don’t run out to buy The Trespasser.