Cover image of "The Trespasser," a novel about the Dublin Murder Squad

Plotting a mystery novel is a challenging task. A truly successful writer manages to lay out a plot that is not only suspenseful to the end but grounded in a semblance of reality. Other writers, including some of the best, occasionally resort to coincidence to make their plots work. The worst recent example of coincidence carried to a laughable extent is Paula Hawkins’ runaway bestseller The Girl on the Train. Several highly improbable coincidences are all that make that story hang together, and I simply can’t comprehend how the book has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for so long. Building a plot in such a way is a sign of laziness. It’s a trap.

Unfortunately, Tana French, who’s a far better writer than Hawkins, fell into a similar trap when writing The Trespasser, the sixth in her Dublin Murder Squad series. Though I found only two major unlikely coincidences in the story, they marred the credibility of the story. I’ve now read the whole series. I find The Trespasser one of the weakest — though it’s still far superior to the run-of-the-mill fare to be found in detective fiction. The suspense is palpable.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6) by Tana French ★★★☆☆

An intriguing police procedural

The narrator in this police procedural set in Dublin is Detective Antoinette Conway. She’s a two-year veteran of the elite Murder Squad. As the only woman on the squad, and one with a huge chip on her shoulder at that, Conway is shunned by most of the other detectives. She considers herself lucky to be partnered with Detective Steve Moran, whom she recently helped join the squad. They work together on the night shift and are used to catching domestic violence cases that pose little challenge. So they’re not surprised to be assigned early one morning to what seems like another straightforward case of one-spouse-beats-up-the-other. But the very last thing that might be said about this case is that it’s straightforward. The assignment — a murder case rather than a beating — will consume their every waking moment for many days and shake the Murder Squad to its core.

The Dublin Murder Squad: a clever device

Nearly all detective series center around one, usually heroic character. The series is typically named after him or her. Tana French takes a different tack in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Each book features a different detective on the squad, one who was introduced as a minor character in an earlier book. This approach allows French to keep the setting fresh and to portray the breadth of cultural and sociological detail that make Dublin such a fascinating city. Detective Antoinette Conway narrates the tale in The Trespasser. The book is written in the casual and ungrammatical way that a young, lower-class woman such as Conway might well speak in conversation.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Tana French, a well-known actress as well as a writer, might choose to inhabit a different protagonist in each book in the series. Clearly, that works for her.

For reviews of the other novels in this series, see my post Reviewing the Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French.

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