A Slow, Disappointing Offering

Author: Tana French

Cal Hooper, hardened Chicago police detective, has seen it all and lost it all. He’s divorced. The job took his marriage, his family, his connections, and his belief in the goodness of humanity. Now that he is retired, he wants away from it all. And there is nothing more remote than this village in rural Ireland, where the natural beauty is superseded only by the harshness of the terrain and the forbidding, windswept quietness. Here, he will restore an old cottage, go on walks, enjoy the simple happiness of the locals. Here, everything will be quiet. Except, of course, a picturesque village can hold and hide just as many secrets as a big city, and the simple rural folks aren’t quite as innocuous as they first appear.

Brendan Reddy was a ne’er-do-well from a bad family, with almost zero hope for a future. When he went missing, no one was surprised, and no one much carried. Except Trey. Trey will never forget his brother, and as he slinks out of the shadows to ask for Cal’s help, the world of crime and lies pierces even the quietest of moments.

True to Tana French’s usual MO, The Searcher is slow and ominous, a character study into the darkness of humanity, the heinous nature of crime and silence, and the depressing finality of loss. French combines an eloquent but simple prose with realistic dialogue and world-weary characters, forced again into the grime and backwash of humanity’s worst moments.

While the villagers mill about, innocently enough, we know that French will peel back the layers. Nothing is as bucolic and simple as it seems, and the friendly vibe of a close-knit village soon becomes ominous as the people watch, wait, send warnings, and collude. It seems that everyone else knows exactly what happened to Brendan. Everyone except Trey and Cal. And, of course, finding out has a price.

This is the first French book that won’t stay on my overburden shelves but will instead gladly go into my Little Free Library. When I first saw this book at Barnes and Noble, I was shocked. How had I, a French fan and collector, missed one of her books? I put everything else I was reading aside and dove into this, loving the Irish village, the feel of wool-heavy clouds and the blasted aspect of green mountains and worn dirt paths. The love didn’t stay long.

First, Cal doesn’t entirely ring true to me, and he hides things. We never do entirely know why he picked this village, and he seems too smart to really believe that village life is a panacea for pain and evil. It doesn’t fit. Why here? Why now?

And again, Cal doesn’t come off to me as a hardened detective or a Chicago native. This is foisted on him, and the backstory is an ill fit. I don’t know who Cal was, but he wasn’t a big bad city detective, guns blazing and sirens wailing, worn down by fast-paced crime.

Trey, I liked better, I understood better. But then the plot just DRAGGED. Now, if you’ve read French before you know that everything of hers is a slow burn. No quick, fancy thriller moves here and no cheap sensationalism. But still. This doesn’t move at all. Cal literary spends hundreds of pages holed up in this cottage he is improving (which never seems to get better btw), and for hundreds of pages he just thinks. The investigation itself, when it finally comes, is sloppy. No hardened detective would barge about like a bull in a China shop. Again Cal, who are you and what are you hiding? Because the “you” of the back story would know better and be far more strategic and cautious.

In the end the reveal is, as always, interesting. But there were just so many mind-numbing, naval-gazing moments of Cal and Trey fixing a desk, or talking without talking, that by the time we get to the conclusion, there is a collective sigh of relief. Finally, the book is finished. It was quality. It was well written. It was deep. It just wasn’t engaging or believable. I probably would give this a much lower rating, in all honesty, but it’s hard to be objective with French when everything she has written before has been pure gold among the dross. Perhaps I’m being too forgiving – or too harsh. You decide. But if you’re new to French, don’t start here. Personally, I’d say start at Broken Harbor. Really, anywhere else except The Searcher, which moves along like an asthmatic snail in a pollen storm.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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