In multiple novels over the last two decades, Tana French has introduced readers to an Ireland they don’t recognize. Her Dublin Murder Squad series plumbs the capital’s seamier quarters and chronicles the detectives who try to keep order in the city’s life while usually failing to do so in their own.
In “The Searcher,” French takes on the island’s beautiful but bleak West, where the occupants of sparsely populated villages know far too much about one another’s business and their common bond is suspicion of outsiders. There aren’t many of those, to be sure, making the scrutiny all that more intense when Cal Hooper, who took early retirement as a Chicago missing persons detective to escape a joyless job and a miserable divorce, arrives to rehabilitate a ramshackle cottage that he found on the internet.
He soon learns there is no escape from human nature. When a local child from the poorest family in the area befriends him and asks him to search for a missing 19-year-old brother, Hooper finds himself immersed in a society as steeped in rigid customs and class prejudice as anything he encountered at home.
In an interview with The Washington Post in 2020, French acknowledged being inspired by John Ford’s Western classic, “The Searchers,” and by literature of the American West including “Lonesome Dove.” The novel also is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film, “The Unforgiven,” a tale of moral ambiguity in which the protagonist struggles with committing wrongs to right a wrong.
As in those Western stories, the land itself in “The Searcher” is a character, a metaphor for the hard lives and dark secrets of the town, where unmarked bogs can swallow not just bodies but life stories.
“The morning has turned lavishly beautiful,” French writes of Hooper after a drinking session in which some of the town’s elder farmers subtly warn him from his quest. “The autumn sun gives the greens of the fields an impossible, mythic radiance and transforms the back roads into light-muddled paths where a goblin with a riddle, or a pretty maiden with a basket, could be waiting around every gorse-and-bramble bend. Cal is in no mood to appreciate any of it. He feels like this specific beauty is central to the illusion that lulled him into stupidity, turned him into the peasant gazing slack-jawed at this handful of gold coins till they melt into dead leaves in front of his eyes.”
Such elegant prose is the vehicle that French uses to spirit readers into the dark recesses of her complex mysteries. “The Searchers” is among her best.
- Author: Tana French
- Publisher: Viking
- Pages: 462
- Price: $27
Patrick McKenna has been associate editor of The Times-Tribune since July 1990. He is a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, a role in which he helps to formulate editorial policy. As editorial and op-ed editor, he is responsible for most of The Times-Tribune’s opinion content and the author of most of the newspaper’s editorials. A 1978 graduate of Penn State, Pat started at The Scranton Times in March 1978. He has won multiple statewide awards for editorial writing, and the national WIlliam Allen White Award for Editorial Excellence. Pat is a Scranton native and lives in Clarks Green.