The Trespasser by Tana French – review

Dublin detective Antoinette Conway returns in French’s absorbing tale of a murder that looks like a lovers’ tiff

There’s more than a little of the noir about Tana French’s latest, The Trespasser. Set, like her previous thrillers, among the detectives of Dublin’s murder squad, perhaps it (hard-)boils down to the fact that her protagonist this time, detective Antoinette Conway, manages to fizz with contempt for the world around her, bristle with toughness and sink regularly into poetic gloom all at the same time.

“The case comes in, or anyway it comes in to us, on a frozen dawn in the kind of closed-down January that makes you think the sun’s never going to drag itself back above the horizon,” says Conway, the only female detective on the Dublin squad, dealing with the cruel practical jokes of colleagues who want to see the back of her, and lumbered with straightforward domestic violence cases when she wants to be on the trail of psychotic serial killers.

This particular case looks like a lovers’ tiff, “just like the uniforms figured... some gobshite who got his knickers in a twist and threw a tantrum at his girlfriend”. Aislinn Murray is lying dead in her immaculate home, blond and beautiful. Everyone is convinced the boyfriend did it, but Conway and her partner Stephen Moran – both appeared in French’s previous novel, The Secret Place – believe there’s more to it.

Or perhaps, tired of being given the easy solves, they just want this to be more than another “slam-dunk” case. Keeping it quiet from the rest of the team, they pursue a series of dark possibilities, in the process discovering there was more to the glossy Murray than met the eye (“everything about her seems dense enough with sadness to drop you like a sandbag”).

Conway is an enjoyably complex companion, both bruisingly misanthropic – “If he’s not our guy, he’s such a godawful damp weenie, the kind who needs regular slaps across the back of the head just to keep him from vanishing up his own hole” – and so in love with her job it almost makes you want to give it a try.

“That pulse is hammering right through me, practically lifting me off the bench. Forget coffee; this job, when it’s right, this job is the hit that speed freaks throw their lives away hunting ... It’s a smell of blood raging at the back of your nose, it’s your arm muscle throbbing to let go the bowstring, it’s drums speeding in your ears and a victory roar building at the bottom of your gut.”

French also pulls it out of the bag here with some of the best back and forth interrogation scenes out there. “No ifs and maybes twitching in the corners, gumming up the air, itching inside my clothes... Just me and the guy across from me, and what we both know he did. It lies on the table between us, a solid thing with the taut, dark shine of a meteorite, for the winner to claim.”

As she and Moran edge closer and closer to a dangerous truth, obstacles continue to fall or be planted in their paths, until they’re not sure they even want to get to the bottom of what they’re looking for. While The Trespasser isn’t quite up to the intense brilliance of The Secret Place, it is still a gnarly, absorbing read, and a finely tuned slice of wintry gloom from one of the best thriller writers we have.

The Trespasser is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£16.99). Click here to buy it for £13.93


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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