“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.

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