The Searcher

The Searcher



The Pequod Review:

Tana French's eighth novel, The Searcher, is set in rural Ireland and involves a former Chicago police officer (Cal Hooper) who retires overseas for a quieter life only to get pulled into a search for a missing local teenager. The story has a slower pace than French's prior works; while this results in less narrative tension, it gives her an opportunity to stretch out her character development and create extended scenes that build to moments of real power and emotion. One of her best such scenes takes place in a quiet neighborhood pub, where Cal is given an initially friendly welcome by several locals only to later be subtly warned to mind his own business. An eerie sense of menace pervades the entire interaction; it's one of the finest set pieces French has ever written.

The book's measured pace also allows French to focus on the rugged Irish countryside. Some of her nature scenes are full of vivid and stirring imagery:

It's headed into the long cool September stretch of evening, but cloudy enough that there's no trace of a sunset. The sky, dappled in subtle gradations of grey, goes on forever; so do the fields, coded in shades of green by their different uses, divided up by sprawling hedges, dry stone walls and the odd narrow back road. Away to the north, a line of low mountains rolls along the horizon. Cal's eyes are still getting used to looking this far, after all those years of city blocks. Landscape is one of the few things he knows of where the reality doesn't let you down. The West of Ireland looked beautiful on the Internet; from right smack in the middle of it, it looks even better. The air is rich as fruitcake, like you should do more with it than just breathe it; bite off a big mouthful, maybe, or rub handfuls of it over your face.


During the night, something happens. It reaches Cal through his sleep, a snag somewhere in the night's established rhythms, a disturbance. As he comes awake he hears, away across the fields, a hard savage howl of pain or rage or both.

He goes to the window, cracks it open and looks out. The on cloud has cleared some, but the moon is slim and he can see very little except different densities and textures of darkness. The night is cold and windless. The howl has stopped, but there's still movement, far-off and ragged, ruffling the edge of his hearing.  

And as with her acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, French includes deeper social observations than is typical for a crime novel:

"We lose enough of our young men," Mart says. It seems to Cal that he should sound like he's defending his actions, but doesn't. His eyes across the table are steady and his voice is calm and final, underlaid by the quiet patter of rain all around. "The way the world's after changing, it's not made right for them, any more. When I was a young lad, we knew what we could want and how to get it, and we knew we'd have something to show for it at the end of the day. A crop, or a flock, or a house, or a family. There's great strength in that. Now there's too many things you're told to want, there's no way to get them all, and once you're done trying, what have you got to show for it at the end? You've made a buncha phone calls selling electricity plans, maybe, or had a buncha meetings about nothing; you've got your hole offa some bitta fluff you met on the Internet, got yourself some likes on the aul' YouTube. Nothing you can put your hands on. The women do be grand anyway; they're adaptable. But the young men don't know what to be doing with themselves at all. There's a few of them, like Fergal O'Connor who you met there, that keep their feet on the ground regardless. The rest are hanging themselves, or they're getting drunk and driving into ditches, or they're overdosing on the aul' heroin, or they're packing their bags. I don't want to see this place a wasteland, every farm looking the way yours did before you came along: falling to wrack and ruin, waiting for some Yank to take a fancy to it and make it into his hobby." 

The Searcher may not rank with Tana French's best work — Faithful Place (2010) remains in my opinion her strongest book — but she is proving to be a crime writer of extraordinary talent.