I have rarely been so relieved to have enjoyed a book as I was with Tana French’s The Searcher. I’m pretty certain I’ve read every novel she’s written, and until her last book before this one I’d enjoyed all of them quite a bit. I was … not a fan of The Witch Elm. I wrote a review saying so, a review that has haunted me by regularly being one of my highest-viewed posts every month since I wrote it. I don’t know why this happens so often when I write negative reviews; people seem to enjoy seeing me not like things for some reason. But I like Tana French, damn it! It was just that one book! She’s still awesome, read the Dublin Murder Squad books!
I don’t know if she’s done with that series or just taking a break from it, but the notion that her newest book, The Searcher, was also going to be a stand-alone had me … nervous. I feel bad about how well the review of Witch Elm has done. And I felt like I really needed to have The Searcher be a return to form. Chances are if I hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t have reviewed it, but I’d have to make a decision about whether I was buying more Tana French books as they come out in the future, and I need my Irish crime fiction fix, damn it.
So: yeah. The Searcher is absolutely a return to form. In fact, it might be my favorite of her books, although I’m going to hold off on that decision for a bit and let the sense of relief fade and see how well the book holds up. It shares DNA with a lot of her previous books that was jettisoned in The Witch Elm: the main character is a detective again, although he’s retired, and the book is written in the 3rd-person present tense of the rest of her books and not the first person of Witch Elm. It is not quite a murder mystery; the main character, Cal, is a Chicago cop who has recently gone through a messy divorce and has repaired off to a crumbling house in middle-of-nowhere Ireland, hunting for peace, quiet and smallness. He is rather forcibly befriended– adopted might be a better word, or at least serially imposed upon— by one of the local kids, Trey, a thirteen-year-old from a messed-up household and badly in need of some stability. And then it comes out that Trey’s older brother has disappeared, and Cal gets dragged, mostly unwittingly, into searching for him. There is always the question of whether the brother is alive or dead, but it’s definitely more of a missing-person story than a murder mystery. Can’t have a murder mystery without a dead person, right?
The other interesting thing: Cal, as I’ve said, is retired and a recent arrival in town, and while he’s not exactly taken leave of his detective skills he’s more than a little hamstrung by the lack of any sort of institutional support or knowledge of the local power structures. There are several places in the book where he’s deciding what to do next, and frequently he runs up against well, I can’t run his phone, or do criminal history checks or anything like that because he simply doesn’t have that kind of access any longer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a fish out of water narrative, but there are certainly elements of that type of story complicating his search, and it’s an interesting change of pace for a book that might otherwise fit in a bit too neatly with the Murder Squad protagonists.
I liked this book a lot. I liked Cal, I liked the relationship between Cal and Trey, and I liked the small cast of supporting characters that get built up over the course of the book. The book is about 450 pages long and I read it in a day; again, I’ve liked-to-loved all of her books but the one, but I don’t remember another one that demanded I finish it immediately the way this one did. There’s a single story decision that comes up at about the 2/3 mark that I still don’t quite get, but it doesn’t turn out to be the misstep that I thought it was going to be when it first happens, and the book ends quite well, I think. I read some other reviews on Goodreads and the biggest knock against the book is that it’s slow-paced. That’s definitely true, but it’s a deliberate decision and quite consistent with everything else going on in the book– Cal has moved to Ireland precisely so that he can lead a slower and more deliberate life, so the book taking its time to watch the rooks in his yard mirrors the main character’s mental state pretty precisely.
Hooray! I enjoy liking things.