Review: The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser by Tana French is the 6th Dublin Murder Squad novel from the New York Times bestselling author. (Available today!)

Antoinette Conway worked hard to get into the prestigious Dublin Murder Squad, but now that she’s there, she finds her professional life filled with harsh hazing and harassment. Witness statements disappear from her files, her phone is dropped into her coffee, and someone urinates in her locker. So she’s already stressed when she and her partner, Stephen Moran, receive yet another domestic violence death at the end of a long shift.

At first this case seems like many others: Aislinn Murray, a beautiful, delicate young woman is found dead in her picture-perfect apartment. The most obvious suspect is her new boyfriend, and it looks like an open-and-shut case. But the deeper Conway and Moran dig into Aislinn’s life, the more the puzzle pieces refuse to fit. Witness stories aren’t matching the evidence. The Murder Squad—the one place Conway has always wanted to be—is divided and hostile, forcing Conway and her partner to discover the truth by themselves. 

The Trespasser by Edgar Award-winning Tana French is the sixth installment of French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, but it’s not necessary to read these novel in order. Each book focuses on a life-changing case for the detective that French chooses to focus on—in this case, it’s Antoinette Conway, who we first met in The Secret Place.

And that’s the real magic of this whole series. By focusing on individual investigators in each book, French introduces their struggles and triumphs independent of a larger narrative thread—which also means that anything can happen to a main character. They can win or they can lose. Makes for some delightfully tense reading. 

As mentioned before, this novel is focused on Antoinette Conway—the only woman currently on the Murder Squad. The job is tough enough without the constant hazing from her fellow Squad members. The harassment has gotten so bad that she can’t leave anything unlocked. Witness statements disappear from her files and messages and reports vanish before reaching her, making her look incompetent and unable to do her job. To protect herself, Conway keeps her distance from everyone, trusting only her partner, Stephen Moran (who was the focus of French’s The Secret Place). 

When Aislinn Murray, a Barbie-doll woman Conway can’t relate to at all, is found dead—her head smashed against the corner of a fireplace—it looks like a clear-cut domestic violence case. But, despite her high solve rate, Conway is given a “back-up” detective in Detective Breslin, as if she’s not capable of handling  a “slam-dunk” domestic by herself. 

The gaffer has wandered over to the roster whiteboard and is squinting at it. He says, “You’ll need backup on this one.”

I can feel Steve willing me to keep the head. “We can handle a slam-dunk domestic on our own,” I say. “We’ve worked enough of them.”

“And someone with a bit of experience might teach you how to work them right. How long did ye take to clear that Romanian young one? Five weeks? With two witnesses who saw her fella stab her, and the press and the equality shower yelling about racism and if it was an Irish girl we’d have made an arrest by now – ”

“The witnesses wouldn’t talk to us.” Steve’s eye says Shut up, Antoinette, too late. I’ve bitten, just like O’Kelly knew I would.

“Exactly. And if the witnesses won’t talk to you today, I want an old hand around to make them.” O’Kelly taps the whiteboard. “Breslin’s due in. Have him. He’s good with witnesses.”

As Conway pulls at the loose strings in the case, she finds every move she makes challenged. What should be an easy solve turns into something much more sinister. Are her fellow Squad members working against her? Is she paranoid? What story is the truth?

The storytelling motif is powerful in The Tresspasser. Conway is surrounded by people who tell stories. Her mother tells tales about what happened to Conway’s father. Cops tell stories to witnesses and victims. Aislinn leaves fairy tales as clues. This novel is like a mosaic of stories woven together, and Conway has to sort the real from the imaginary, something she’s had to do from a very young age:

On my thirteenth birthday I sat across the cake from her and told her [Conway’s mother] this time I wasn’t messing. I wanted to know. She sighed, said I was old enough to know the truth and told me he was a Brazilian guitarist she’d gone out with for a couple of months, till one night at his flat he beat the shite out of her. When he fell asleep, she robbed his car keys and drove home like a bat out of hell, the dark roads rained empty and her eye throbbing in time with the wipers. When he rang sobbing and apologizing, he might even have taken him back – she was twenty – only by then she knew about me. She hung up on him. 

That was the day I decided I was going to be a cop when I left school. Not because I wanted to go Catwoman on the abusers out there, but because my ma can’t drive.

Like all of French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, The Trespasser is a complex, multi-layered mystery. French does a beautiful job of presenting the surface mystery—she gives all the forensic explanations you could want as a reader. Then, the characters pile on their own opinions. Then, the witnesses have their say … which is not always the truth. And after that, histories that characters thought were long-buried catch up with the present. Tana French is not one to spell it out for you—she reveals slowly, peeling one layer back at a time.

Read an excerpt from The Trespasser here!


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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 MagazineShimmerSkive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.


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