Around these parts, Tana French is dubbed ‘Ireland’s first lady of crime” and with good reason. Her Dublin Murder Squad Series – a set of five novels based around a fictional investigative crime unit in Dublin – are addictive in the extreme. I read In the Woods (the first in the series) back in November 2015. Five months later and I’ve just finished The Secret Place (the fifth in the series).
As a series, the books are somewhat unique in that they work well as stand alone stories but can be read in sequence also. Each novel has a different protagonist who tells their story in the first person and the other characters weave in and out of the main narrative. The central character in book two might might only be referred to in passing in book three.
What really makes the books shine though, is in their telling of what it means to live in Ireland and be Irish in the 21st Century. As many Irish readers/writers/consumers of art will tell you, we tire of the typical descriptions of Ireland in most fiction. Dodgy Priests, Catholic Guilt, the Irish Mammy and Alcoholism feature so strongly in the Irish artistic narrative but bear little resemblance to the Ireland that my compatriots know and live in.
The Dublin Murder Squad Series is a tonic for those fed up with the standard Irish fare. The settings for each novel describe an Ireland of new money and of recession. An Ireland that is trying desperately to be modern but seems to have lost something of it’s own identity. The stories take place in surroundings as varied as a boarding school; a ghost estate; an archeological site; a city centre council house; and a country estate occupied by graduate students.
I love crime fiction as a general rule but the thriller/mystery aspect of these novels are second fiddle to the brilliant scene setting and characterisation of the Murder Squad Team. Come for the plot-lines but stay for characterisation, I say. Their voices ring so true that they feel as though the characters jump out of the page into your kitchen, make you a cup of tea and then sit with your at the table and tell you their story.
No more is this true than that of my favourite character in the series, Cassie Maddox – an early thirties cop who works undercover, murder and domestic violence. She’s tough but also empathetic and great at her job. She gets her own story in the second book – The Likeness – which I think is the highlight of the series so far.
The only weak point in the series, I feel, is Broken Harbour, which is the fourth novel. Set in one of Ireland’s ghost estates, the plot and the characters are great but at times it feels like the execution of the idea fell short of it’s admirable ambitions. Nonetheless this is a small glitch in an otherwise great series that I would highly recommend to any fans of the crime genre.
According to Goodreads the sixth novel in the series – The Trespasser is coming out some time this year. I’ll be queuing up early to get my copy.