Author: Tana French
Stephen Moran has finally made it into the Murder Squad and is now partnered with the tough-as-nails pariah of the group, Detective Antoinette Conway. So far, it’s just working the off-hours and the usual domestic disputes, but this new case might be the key to the big time . . . unless one of the other murder detectives is secretly involved with the vic and has good reason to make sure that the case never sees the light of day.
Aislinn Murray is your normal, pretty girl: naïve, sheltered, with a magazine-perfect house and straight-forward life. No one knows why she was murdered in her living room, a romantic dinner set for two, untouched, off to the side. It must be the usual domestic squabble, except not everything adds up and Aislinn’s best friend has her suspicions, reservations that she is afraid to share with the Murder Squad detectives.
What starts out as Moran’s usual optimism slowly triggers a change as he and Conway get further into the case. Aislinn has appeared before, but not in the murder system. She is a brief blip in Conway’s past . . . and someone is determined to keep the down-and-out partners from backtracking the dead girl and what she wanted. Is it just Conway’s paranoia or is this a hush-hush operation determined to bury internal corruption?
When I first started The Trespasser, what is currently, tragically, the last book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, I almost threw it down in frustration when I saw that Conway, the overdrawn, obdurately sour detective from Secret Place was not only back, but the main point of view character. French has a way with unreliable, even unlikable narrators, but Antoinette is enough to make even a saint root for the villain. Conyway’s problem isn’t necessarily her lack of believability, her flaws and ever raised guard are realistic, but the fact that she, as a person, is trying far too hard to be nasty in order to protect whatever fragile underbelly she still has. That means she tries this with the reader too, although now that we have the story from her point of view, there are moments of understanding, although (for me) never empathy. Conway is simply unpleasant. Her lack of sympathy is foul, especially when she reflects back on Aislinn’s one moment of desperation. Conway is too busy feeling sorry for herself to feel the twinge of sorrow for a woman with her brains bashed in, and that’s the in-your-face, proudly cruel woman you’re going to be stuck with for the entire length of the book, despite the occasionally bland but peppy infusions from Stephen who, puppy-dog like, is never cowed into running for the hills.
Before I get off this soap box . . . many reviewers seem to love Conway, toting her as a strong female lead. Did we meet the same woman? Yes, Conway is bitter, and some of it does tie back to sexual harassment in the squad and the old-boys-network against the young, African American woman who has dared to think highly enough of herself to join a “man’s” game. But it’s not enough. In her secret moments when her guard is down, she is still a character with no mercy. The way she treats the other women who frame the narrative, especially Aislinn (even when we all still think the vic is gum-drop sweet) may be a symptom of her own abusive experience, and something that from a physiological standpoint says a lot about oppression. It is not, however, enough to make us ever like Conway. I might also add that this is the type of character who, were she real, would hate you for your sympathy, for trying to piece together her story and make it into a warning, moral, or a call to action. So, you know, there is all that.
Why the high rating though, despite my two paragraph rant about how I just hate the main character? The answer is simple. The Trespasser is just good. Not Broken Harbor good (but what can be), but nonetheless twisty, edge of your seat, full of trickery good. Conway may not be likable, but her case and what she does with it is mesmerizing and readers (at least yours truly) can’t put it down, can’t stop trying to puzzle together how good-girl Aislinn ended up so abandoned and so dead.
And that’s where all the tricks come into play. Of course the victim isn’t who you really think she is. Aislinn has her own Conway-like tricks and once the motive, hidden in the past and just almost tangible, is revealed, things start to happen rapidly. While the rest of the squad, including the big leader who is set to watch over Conway and Moran, want the boyfriend arrested and the case swept under the rug, another standard domestic, more and more evidence and weird internal shenanigans point out that whatever Aislinn got herself involved with is way bigger than one fight gone desperately bad. And the ramifications . . . well, the Murder Squad isn’t going to be able to walk away from what Conway and Moran unearth.
Along the way, French keeps us sharp. She can somehow take a thirty page interview scene and make it nail bitingly tense. Things move both slow and fast, as they always do, with the roiling subtext pulling us one way and our crime-documentary brains pulling us another. You may figure out, about the same time as Conway, what the real deal is, but that then leaves the comeuppance, which is far more complicated. This is one case that doesn’t have a decided “end” but a domino effect. It’s not Broken Harbor intense, but The Trespasser is gripping and if you can put it down, I’d be seriously surprised. And so, French works her magic again, making me love a story told by a narrator I don’t like and encouraging me to check Amazon every day, ever hopeful that more books in the series are coming.
– Frances Carden
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