THE TRESPASSER BY TANA FRENCH
“It’s at its most focused in several ‘ferociously intent’ interrogation scenes”
Everyone has an interview shtick, explains Detective Antoinette Conway, the whip-sharp narrator in Tana French’s sixth Dublin Murder Squad novel. That shtick cuts deeper than most in French’s tough, twisting procedural, a 469-page sprawl at its most focused in several “ferociously intent” interrogation scenes. Conway fancies she can smell blood on suspects but these encounters cut many ways: cops and suspects become entangled in a prickly atmosphere of barbed-wire ambiguity, where objective certainty falls behind charged, complex characterisation.
Building a multistranded milieu, each Squad novel leads with a cop who was peripheral in a previous novel. The centre stage here is taken by the caustic Conway and her partner, Steve Moran. And take it Conway does, with a hunger born from a passion for the squad and a need to prove herself. Ostracised and harassed by male colleagues – she daren’t leave her coat in the squad room; someone might smear his cock on it – Conway is tiring of being lumped with “slam-dunk domestic” cases. Then a murder comes her way.
Conway bristles when forced to work with senior detective Breslin on the case of Aislinn Murray, a young woman killed at home beside a romantic table for two – and she bristles with good reason. French is terrific at creating and lacerating vivid characters, and she does so lethally with Breslin, a “patronising fuck” who drops phrases like “touch base” without shame and oozes with hidden agendas.
But she’s even better at using interrogations to illuminate multi-level character depths. A 46-page interview with Aislinn’s boyfriend is a scorching psychological set-piece, Conway and Breslin shifting roles as they whip the suspect up to a peak of impotent rage. “I can smell it, hot as blood,” drools Conway, thinking she’s on to him.
Too sharp to give the game up this easily, French makes Conway jump through many personal and political hoops before the all-too-human truth emerges. Perhaps too many: one gang-based subplot drags. But what French does well is anatomise how a pile-up of prejudice, politics, personal stakes and police corruption nudges Conway down blind alleys so that the big reveal can hit you like a loaded punch: it’s well hidden, but well seeded. Although the evidence was there, Conway was too wrapped up in the story, in the “shtick” of playing roles in her interrogation games, to see the truth. The Trespasser is unwieldy, but French’s psych-profile shtick is so sharp, she ensures we’re wrapped up, too.