Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
Tana French, the queen of psychological crime fiction, has just released another stellar installment of her world-renowned Dublin Police Squad series, The Trespasser. We liked it so much, we picked it for our October Pick of the Month, although this honor couldn’t possibly get more attention for what is one of the most anticipated releases in the mystery world.
French continues her particular brand of psychological thriller in her latest. The inscrutable Antoinette Conway, who we met in The Secret Place as the partner of protagonist Stephen Moran, now appears in the starring role, making her French’s first female protagonist since The Likeness. Disliked by her squad but supported by her partner, Detective Antoinette Conway’s experience working in Murder is at the start of the novel a mixed bag.
Like any other Tana French protagonist, she soon encounters a case designed to drudge up all her past psychological hang-ups – a woman with daddy issues and no obvious personality turns up dead, and it’s up to Conway to work through her own difficulties with her father as she races to solve the case before her colleagues pin the murder on the wrong man and accuse her of “shaking trees” instead of pursuing real leads. Her fellow policemen, uncomfortable with her dogged attempts to close the case, move from harassing her to deliberately deceiving her, either to get her fired or to cover up something big.
French makes more of a feminist point with The Trespasser than with her other novels. A pulp protagonist might view the corpse of a beautiful dead woman with sadness at the loss of her beauty to the world, but they would never question how artificial that woman’s beauty may have been, and why she was wearing the armor of the sexy siren. Conway’s initial curiosity over the murder victim stems from the woman’s deliberate lack of personality. The victim’s apartment contains such bland items, Conway immediately suspects the woman was hiding something big.
She recognizes the victim’s small size and slinky clothing not as the qualities of beauty, but as a disguise – the victim’s “low-level starvation” and high-end fashion, crafted to mimic the impossible beauty standards of a photoshopped culture, is only the shiny veneer of a complicated soul. As Conway investigates further, she finds that every aspect of the victim’s carefully cultivated appearance has been deliberately assumed, first as an attempt to match societal beauty standards, and then as a weapon, to entice a villainous figure from her past, with the hopes of ruining his reputation and life.
French’s feminism doesn’t stop with her critique of the artificiality of modern beauty standards. The “bad guys” in The Trespasser are not awful because of their willingness to kill, but because of their interest in manipulating the lives of women they have deemed fragile and in need of protection. The message is clear, and well-appreciated on my end as a reader: male authority figures who patronizingly set out to protect women and in so doing, mess with their lives, will be rightfully shamed in fiction.
You can find copies of French’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.