I wouldn’t have some wan bringing her ideas into my house. Wanting a chandelier, maybe, or a poodle, or me to do yoga classes
One of the best arguments I ever heard against marriage.
That’s the local sage Mart Lavin, Cal Hooper’s neighbour when he moves into the little Irish village of Ardnakelty, burned out from a career in the Chicago Police Department and still bruised by a divorce that seemed to come from nowhere. All he wants is peace, but of course he doesn’t get it. A persistent local kid, Trey, harasses him until he agrees to find out what happened to Trey’s older brother Brendan who disappeared nearly a year ago. He feels sorry for the kid, who comes from the local ne’er-do-well family, and he doesn’t really expect to find out anything, but before long he gets a warning from Mart that’s unmistakeable even though it’s delivered casually during a poteen session in the local pub. If he wants to fit in he’d better not keep asking questions about Brendan. Well, what do you expect him to do?
It isn’t just his detecting instincts that kick in, but what he tries to explain to Trey as the difference between manners and morals:
‘Morals,’ he says in the end, ‘is the stuff that doesn’t change. The stuff you do no matter what other people do….I just try to do right by people…. Is all.’
Tana French is very good on the atmosphere in the village, at once welcoming and punitive, casual on the surface but rigid underneath:
Around here mockery is like rain: most of the time it’s either present or incipient, and there are at least a dozen variants, ranging from nurturing to savage, and so subtly distinguished that it would take years to get the hang of them all.
It wasn’t the search for Brendan, but the light and shade of Cal’s interactions with this human ecosystem that absorbed and impressed me. None of it is clichéd and yet it strikes the satisfying notes cliché reaches for: Cal’s developing relationship with the tough but vulnerable Trey, his reconnection with his daughter Alyssa and his promising friendship with clear-eyed, uncompromising Lena. And Tana French writes wonderfully about the natural environment, with a freedom but economy that finds just the right detail of the countryside, the weather and the skies. I’ve read a few of her books now (see review of The Wych Elm) and I’m increasingly impressed with her intelligence and subtlety. Highly recommended.