Montreal Gazette

Risky structure pays off for tense thriller


The Hunter Tana French Viking

The Hunter is the extraordin­ary sequel to The Searcher. (You need not have read The Searcher to appreciate The Hunter, though it helps.) Cal Hooper, the hero French introduced in The Searcher, is a retired Chicago detective who bought a cottage in Ireland precisely so he would never again have to chase down criminals.

The pacing of The Searcher was restrained, but the payoff was its slowly intensifyi­ng sinister atmosphere: Cal was always trying to decipher the meanings behind his new neighbours' pleasantri­es that shaded into warnings. The Hunter takes place some three years later, and Cal has grown more deft at decipherin­g his neighbours' doublespea­k. But nothing can shield him from the pandemoniu­m that breaks loose upon the return of Johnny Reddy, the absentee father of Trey, Cal's now-15-yearold protégée and de facto child.

Trey has matured into a responsibl­e teenager, though her resistance to local traditiona­l gender roles leaves her feeling isolated. In The Searcher, she approached Cal about finding her missing brother; the two forged a relationsh­ip and, these days, spend after-school hours together mending and reselling old furniture. Cal hopes that Trey's burgeoning carpentry skills will offer her a shot at a better life, given that her mother and siblings live hand-to-mouth. These hopes are threatened in the very first pages of The Hunter by the surprise reappearan­ce of Johnny, a grifter.

Cal can't figure out why Johnny, who has a history of backing up his boasts with nothing but hot air, would return home to Ardnakelty, “the one place where he can't announce himself as anything other than what he is.” Soon enough, though, the outlines of a long con start to take shape: A rich man named Cillian Rushboroug­h, whom Johnny met in a London pub, arrives in Ardnakelty, determined to find out if his Irish grandmothe­r's tales of gold buried in a riverbed are true. Cal observes Johnny egging on the villagers to “leprechaun up” and cater to Rushboroug­h's Celtic fantasies. The ultimate target of Johnny's machinatio­ns remains murky to Cal, who must tread lightly lest he make an enemy of the man who still has parental rights over Trey. By the time he catches on, Cal — an outsider — realizes that justice may be trumped by tribal feeling.

The Hunter is a singularly tense and moody thriller, but it's also an exceptiona­l novel because of its structure. For most of its substantia­l length, the plot unfolds through conversati­ons; conversati­ons that hint at what's going on, as well as what's being covered up. And throughout the story, French's omniscient narrator keeps up an aloof commentary on those conversati­ons.

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