The Searcher by Tana French

Cal Hooper, a retired detective from Chicago, has moved to the depths of rural Ireland looking for a slower pace of life. He plans to take his time doing up his cottage, mind his own business, and maybe do a bit of hunting and fishing. But, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley’.  Local teenager, Trey, wants Cal to find out what happened to his elder brother, Brendan, and won’t take no for an answer.

When Cal begins to investigate he uncovers layers of darkness buried beneath the picturesque surface of life in Ardnakelty. Told entirely from Cal’s point of view, the mystery surrounding Brendan’s disappearance is slowly uncovered, piece by piece. The pace is quite slow at the beginning as Tana French sets the scene and introduces us to the locals. The writing is skillful as she describes them without turning them into caricatures. They are completely believable, and help to convey how insular and suffocating life in a small rural community actually is.

For the story to work, Cal had to be a complete outsider, like the ‘stranger in town’ in Western films, acting as a catalyst to bring everything out into the open, away from the reach of the forces of law and order. To save the narrative from becoming too bleak, there is a lot of black humour to lighten the darkness. The writing is atmospheric with evocative descriptions of the landscape and wildlife, particularly the terrain he encounters while out walking on the hill, and the antics of the rooks high up in the treetops in his garden.  

The Searcher is the first novel I have read by Tana French, but it won’t be the last. I watched and enjoyed The Dublin Murders on TV, and have since found out that they are based on books written by her; they are now waiting on my bedside table.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.