American-Irish actor and author Tana French gained prominence in literary circles with the six bestselling Dublin Murder Squad novels. Justly so. The books display the magical charm of her writing and the scope of her understanding of human psychology. But formulas sometimes lose their charm for both writers and readers, and it seems that’s the case with French. In 2018, she brought out her highly praised standalone thriller, The Witch Elm. And now, two years later, comes The Searcher. Set in Ireland’s rural West rather than Dublin, it’s a simple story centered on a handful of individuals that allows French maximum latitude to explore the psychological depths of her characters.
Calvin John Hooper, known as Cal, is a twenty-five year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He’s unhappily divorced and the father of an adult daughter. Taking early retirement at forty-eight, Cal has purchased a run-down cabin on ten acres in the West of Ireland and set out to make the dwelling livable.
The Searcher by Tana French (2020) 463 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
“One of the things that had caught his attention, when he first started looking into Ireland, was the lack of dangers: no handguns, no snakes, no bears or coyotes, no black widows, not even a mosquito. Cal feels like he’s spent most of his life dealing with feral creatures, one way or another, and he liked the thought of passing his retirement without having to take any of them into account. It seemed to him that Irish people were likely to be at ease with the world in ways they didn’t even notice.” Of course, Cal will revise that opinion about Ireland’s rural West as time goes on and reality intrudes when thirteen-year-old Trey Reddy enters his life.
Thus ensues a troubling time for Cal. As the days unfold, he learns more about the reality of the place where he’s chosen to retire. Suspicious and nosy neighbors, prone to believe the wildest rumors. The local busy-body, determined to marry him off to a local widow. Violent Dublin drug dealers and their local collaborators. And the resourceful teenager who prefers his company to school. There’s a mystery here—a murder mystery, as it turns out—but it’s the dynamics of this rural community and Cal’s self-realization that dominate the reader’s attention.
For additional reading
I’ve reviewed four of Tana French’s previous novels:
- Faithful Place – Dublin Murder Squad #3 (A brilliant and satisfying novel of suspense)
- Broken Harbor – Dublin Murder Squad #4 (Mental disorders on parade in this murder mystery set in Ireland today)
- The Secret Place – Dublin Murder Squad #5 (Magical style and tedious plotting in Tana French’s latest)
- The Witch Elm (The latest Tana French is a 500-page psychological thriller)
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- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
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