My ma used to tell me stories about my da.
Detective Antoinette Conway has had just about all she can take of the constant drip of hostility she's been facing since joining the murder squad. When she and her partner Steven Moran are handed the case of a young woman found dead in her home, it seems to be yet another slam dunk domestic, but it isn't long before they start to wonder if maybe there might just be a little more to the story.
Just released in hardback in the UK, The Trespasser is the sixth installment in the excellent Dublin Murder Squad series which started with In The Woods back in 2007. I have been eagerly awaiting this book's release since binge-reading the previous five back in April, grabby hands held at the ready to pick this up at my first opportunity. So of course when it came through my letterbox a few days ago I immediately sat down to read, and devoured it almost whole.
This series follows the various detectives on the fictional Dublin murder squad, each book dealing with the investigation of a new crime and told from the point of view of a different character. All six novels so far can very much be read as stand-alones, each is a self-contained mystery that doesn't spoil the revelations of those that came before it, so you would have no problems jumping in right here. Of course I would recommend going in order, just for the added depth of context and background that experience provides, we meet each narrating character in one or more of the previous books, our lead here for example played a significant role in the fifth story, The Secret Place, but going back to the start is by no means essential.
While this is very much a crime series full of murder mysteries that are begging to be solved, it is far more about its characters, who they are and what makes them tick. These books are fascinating character studies, crime fiction but with a more literary slant, beautifully written and complex. All of the characters are three dimensional and interesting, from the adorably lovable Steven Moran and the definitely up to something Breslin, through to the at first apparently blank-slate murder victim who has far more hiding behind her shiny catalogue exterior, and main suspect Rory who straddles the line between endearingly naive and really very creepy. But best of all is of course our narrator, Antoinette Conway.
Conway is a badass and I love her. The only woman currently on the squad, mixed-raced and from a less than affluent background, she is used to life throwing her a whole bunch of lemons. Her response is pretty much to punch the lemons into submission. Antoinette was a great and intriguing character in her previous appearance but here we get to take a trip inside her wonderfully snarky head, to see the parts that she doesn't show, to revel in her internal eye-rolling and cringe at her mounting paranoia. We get to see her slightly more vulnerable spots, the issues around the father who was gone before she was even born, and the very real effect of the bullying she's getting from inside the squad. She faces it all with her very own brand of steel, occasionally making you want to scream in frustration, her reactions often against typical expectations, but always so very deliciously in character.
For the first time we are seeing a much more unpleasant side of the squad, with other detectives taking the place of outright antagonists instead of allies or mildly annoying hindrances. Conway is forced to be constantly on alert around her colleagues after being systematically harassed, bullied, and gaslighted, with no idea how many are involved, who if anyone she can trust, if she can even trust her own judgement about it anymore. It leaves a deep feeling of unease throughout as we stay on edge with her, doubting everyone on every side, unsure what is really malicious activity and what is just her imagination, what is a misplaced piece of paper or deliberate sabotage. Watching this very strong character start to lose her grip, start to doubt herself and contemplate giving up something she has always dreamed of, was probably the most compelling part of the book for me.
The mystery itself was enthralling too, as usual with French, I had a few inklings about who might have been involved but it definitely kept me questioning the details and second guessing myself over every reveal. Were there gangsters involved, or corruption, or was it really just a fatal end to a lovers spat? Though there was clearly something off, I could never quite decide what I thought it was without it being immediately pulled out from under me. The reveal of what really happened and why was pretty satisfying, another story that dredges into the worst of humanity, and something that you really don't want me to spoil for you, a bit of a theme right now as I don't want to tell you much about anything to do with the greater plot or Conway's development, it is all much better discovered for yourself.
Though this is not my favourite of this wonderful series, that crown still belongs to The Likeness and The Secret Place, this was a very solid entry. When even the worst of a series is as good as this you can't really go wrong, it is well worth a read whether you want to just jump straight in here or go back to the beginning. If you are looking for a good mystery with a bit more depth, a character study, or just a cracking read with some fantastic writing, this would be a great choice. Now I just have to start waiting for the next one, I wonder who the next narrator will be...
Recommended (but start with In The Woods... nudge nudge)