Frank Mackey is the reluctant prodigal son of a dumpy Dublin street called Faithful Place. He ran away decades ago, repressed his battered childhood and decided to become an acerbic detective on the Dublin Murder Squad. When a long-buried body turns up (as they always do), it’s suspected to be that of Frank’s ex-girlfriend Rosie, who ditched his teenage ass way back in the ’80s. He’s soon back home again in Faithful Place, rhapsodising over her memory and bulldozing answers out of suspect neighbours.
This is more plausible than French’s earlier (and better) In the Woods and The Likeness, but with so few twists and turns, it lacks its predecessors’ urgency. Still, Mackey is the author’s most dynamic cop to date. He has an intuitive, peevish mind trapped in a brutish body and sports a working-class chip on his shoulder.
His distaste for his Irish family is as understandable as it is unremarkable: Da is an abusive drunk, his brother is a bitter lout, and Ma is a standard-issue clingy matriarch who calls him ‘Francis’. It’s no wonder Frank keeps popping out of the ’hood to subvert police procedure with righteous trickery.
French’s prose is sharp and substantive even as the plot drags; the atmospheric gloom of charmless pubs and working-class sitting rooms sticks to the ribs like Irish stew. Still, it’s too bad Frank is stuck in a hermetic cul-de-sac as the novel slogs to a predictable end.