A Failed Exercise Book

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Title: The Trespasser

Rating: 5 Stars

In case you haven’t noticed, you can group the books that I read into a couple of categories. I read ‘serious’ literature, whatever that means. I read classic fiction. I read non-fiction / history. And I read genre action/mystery/thriller.

Which one is not like the others?

There actually is a reason for this. I exercise most days of the week. I usually try to play racquetball twice a week. I do weights twice a week. I try to do some other form of aerobic activity twice a week.

The non-racquetball aerobic activity that I used to do was primarily running on a treadmill. However, over the last year or so, I’ve been fighting off plantar fasciitis in both feet, which makes running for any sustained period of time painful. Therefore, I’m now riding a recumbent bike.

I personally find riding a recumbent bike mind-numbingly boring. To mitigate that, I read while riding. I tried reading other types of books, but since I ride pretty hard and I only ride once, at most twice, a week, I found that I was getting lost and distracted pretty easily and losing the thread of the work.

Genre fiction is actually nice for this. They usually follow a pretty linear plot. The characters are usually well defined and manageable in number. For most action/mystery/thriller, I can read for 35 to 40 minutes once or twice a week without losing track of where I am.

Note that I’m not knocking genre fiction. I think it’s great and a perfectly respectable form of literature. It’s just that its form lends itself to my exercise.

Every now and then, an author fails me. I’ll start reading a novel while riding the bike for a couple of sessions, but ultimately the work just draws me in and I can’t help myself. I can’t wait until my next ride to read. I have to sit down and finish it.

Tana French always does this to me. Usually before I’m even halfway through it, I am staying up late at night or burning a couple of hours on the weekend to finish it.

She failed me yet again with The Trespasser. I don’t think I even got halfway through it before I gave up and sat down to finish it.

Her plots are interesting but I really think it’s the characters that draw me in. All of her novels are set in the Murder Squad in Dublin. Her novels (she’s on number six now) are at best loosely connected but can be read independently. Each novel is a first person narrative told from a different person’s perspective.

This time its Antoinette Conway’s turn. She’s a relatively young but hard and brittle detective. She thinks the squad is against her and she is absolutely determined not to let them get the upper hand. Her partner, Steve Moran, is a people pleaser that wants to get along with everyone, but Antoinette feels that her bad karma will also inevitably bring him down as well.

They’re assigned what appears to be a simple domestic murder, but as they investigate it, it seems to be escalating into something much larger. The big question is, are the detectives themselves making it larger because they are sick of getting assigned the boring, easy murder cases, or is there something else at work? And, if so, what is it? Who can they trust? Can they trust each other?

The whole troubled lead brilliant detective is obviously a trope. French’s characters are so deeply drawn that she rises above it. Yes, Conway clearly has some emotional problems, but these problems are somehow integrated into her larger character so that you’re not just rolling your eyes at the poor tortured-soul detective.

The interplay between the detectives and the suspects are richly drawn. She spends time on each character so that, even though at some times they are used just to advance the plot, you find yourself interested and caring for them.

The ending is spot on. I personally find the ending of most novels to be problematic, regardless of genre. The ending of many mysteries have a tendency to peter out because once the case is solved, usually there is some wrap-up / closure that takes place that kills the excitement of the solve. Here she ends it perfectly. I’ve found myself re-reading the last several pages several times just for the sheer enjoyment of a well executed novel.

In short, I think that all of Tana French’s novels, but especially The Trespasser, are absolutely brilliant examples of mystery fiction. She could very well be the best mystery writer active today.

 

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