I haven't written about what I'm reading in a while, but that's because for the past few months I've read nothing but Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, a six-book series (oh, hopefully it won't only be a six-book series) about homicide detectives in Ireland. It is, without question, the best detective series I've read in years, perhaps ever.
Each book features a different protagonist. They're all loosely connected and mostly chronological, but she's never yet returned to the same protagonist twice. In The Woods is about detective Rob Ryan, who is assigned to the murder of a twelve-year-old girl that ties into a mystery from Rob's own childhood. The Likeness follows Rob's partner Cassie Maddox as she takes a hiatus from the Murder department to revisit her time in Undercover. Faithful Place is about Cassie's Undercover supervisor Frank Mackey, and a cold case that dates back to his first love as a teenager. Broken Harbour follows Frank's colleague Scorcher Kennedy as he investigates the brutal murder of an entire family. The Secret Place is set in a private school attended by Frank's daughter Holly, who reaches out to her dad's former mentee Stephen Moran after another student is killed. And The Trespasser brings us to Stephen's partner Antoinette Conway, who discovers that a seemingly simple domestic dispute is in truth complicated enough to put her entire career at risk.
They're each brilliant and beautiful and perfect in their own way. Everyone who reads them has their favorites - mine is, no surprise here, The Secret Place, as it dives into the twisty and magical and witchy friendship among teenage girls.
The mysteries are wonderfully constructed, but most impressive here is French's writing: elegant, atmospheric, even poetic. The characters are actualized and incredibly complicated, and thanks to French's novel approach to protagonists, we see every character from multiple perspectives: as they see themselves, and as other people see them. The difference is sometimes vast, and characters I once hated (like Scorcher Kennedy) eventually grew to be among my favorites.
These books are so thematically rich, too. Each one examines a different aspect of Irish society: poverty, class, race, sexism, religious oppression. There's a way to read these books as straightforward mysteries, but there are hints of the supernatural, glints of superstition or unsolvable enigmas that color the narrative in indelible ways. Every single one of these books is fascinating, riveting, beautifully written and perfectly plotted. You could set aside the next several weeks and read the entire series start to finish and have the time of your life. In fact, do that. Buy them for everyone you know! Spread the word wide and far, because I legitimately can't imagine someone not enjoying this series.
My dear friend Erin Curtis (likepenguins in the comments here and on Twitter) turned me onto Dublin Murder Squad - in fact, she made it her life's mission to get me to read them, since a lifetime's long to-be-read pile delayed me. I texted her through every book, every revelation. She wrote about the series on Facebook recently, and I'd like to quote her here:
If you like mystery books, detective novels, psychological thrillers or character pieces, here's why Tana's the best in the game right now:
1) the actual mysteries are really good and twisty. I usually can figure out whodunit on a mystery book pretty quickly but Tana French keeps me guessing.
2) that's when she bothers to solve the mystery at all, which sometimes she doesn't. WHICH IS THE GREATEST. Because look, sometimes stuff just doesn't get solved and that's life and who knows why things happen? Figure it out for yourself; she ain't your momma.
3) the detectives are actual people, with fleshed out lives, who you want to spend time with.
4) all the books are loosely interconnected, with lovely little Easter eggs and callbacks and foreshadowing, but totally work on their own if you don't have time for a whole series and just want to start somewhere in the middle.
5) Holy Crap, nothing shows the effects of a recession and the dirty underside of a charming city like these books can. Don't read them if you expect a bunch of happy Irish people, singing drinking songs at the pub and being ruddy of cheek.
6) each book has something deeply powerful to say about various segments of society - from the desperate lives of suburbanites who lost it all in the housing crash, to teenage girls being inundated with the world of men far too soon, to carefree college students who seem to have it all. These aren't mystery books; they're intense character studies where good mysteries tend to happen.
Okay, I've said enough. Others should now join in! And the rest of you should get to reading your new obsession. I take thanks in the form of cash, checks or text messages in all caps that say things like "YOU HAVE RUINED MY LIFE. THIS IS THE GREATEST GIFT YOU HAVE EVER GIVEN ME." - aka Meredith Borders
If you've read Dublin Murder Squad, give us your (spoiler-free!) ranking in the comments. Mine's like so: The Secret Place > Faithful Place > The Trespasser > Broken Harbour > In The Woods > The Likeness, but they're all VERY close and extremely great.
Next up: I'm reading Hillbilly Elegy. What are you reading?