Can there be any surprises left in the police interrogation scene? After hundreds of episodes of television crime dramas – from “Law and Order” to “The Closer,” from “NYPD Blue” to “Homicide: Life on the Street” – does any viewer not know how a face-to-face exchange between cops and a suspect is supposed to play out? There’s usually some good cop/bad cop action, some deliberate falsehoods strewn about by either party, the simmering worry that the person under arrest will do the sensible thing and keep his or her mouth shut until an attorney arrives, thereby robbing the scene of its dramatic urgency.

In her new thriller, “The Trespasser,” Tana French, author of “Faithful Place” and “Broken Harbor,” demonstrates again that she’s unusually skilled at interrogation scenes, keeping readers off-guard and thoroughly entertained.

A Vermont native who grew up in Ireland, Italy, Malawi and the United States, French trained as an actor at Trinity College in Dublin. That early career choice may partly account for her unerring facility with dialogue and deep understanding of dramatic structure. Many of her characters carry firearms, but words – blunt as a shovel, sharp as a stiletto – are often the deadliest weapons in her Ireland-based mystery novels.

French grounds her books in the fictional Dublin Murder Squad but has, so far, changed up her protagonist with each new installment. This time, she focuses on two characters from 2014’s “The Secret Place.” The young, seemingly easygoing Stephen Moran took center stage in that unsettling investigation of deadly schoolgirl mindgames, with hard-charging Antoinette Conway providing backup support. Now it’s Conway’s turn to be front and center, with Moran playing the role of the dutiful, supportive sidekick, as they contemplate what at first appears to be a simple domestic tragedy.

When an anonymous caller reports an injured woman who has fallen and hit her head, Conway and Moran know that there’s more to the story. They arrive at the victim’s tidy bungalow and discover it appointed for a romantic encounter. The only thing out of place is the home’s owner, Aislinn Murray.

Conway observes, “She’s somewhere under thirty. She was pretty, before someone decided to turn the left side of her jaw into a bloody purple lump; no stunner, but pretty enough, and she worked hard at it.”


At first, the Murray case appears straightforward. Rory Fallon, her bookish new boyfriend and presumed dinner guest, seems like he’ll shake himself apart with grief and anxiety, but there’s an underlying hardness that suggests he might be capable of throwing a punch strong enough to bounce Aislinn’s head against a corner of the hearth. Aislinn’s best friend, Lucy, however, implies that the young woman might have been seeing someone older and a bit more dangerous.

By employing the first-person present tense, French is able to build a sense of gripping immediacy and emphasize how everything looks through Conway’s skeptical eyes. Conway is smart, wry and often angry, and her interior monologue provides an antidote to the notion that detective work is at all glamorous: “Me and my partner are finishing up another night shift, the kind I used to think wouldn’t exist on the Murder Squad: a massive scoop of boring and a bigger one of stupid, topped off with an avalanche of paperwork.”

As she and Moran pursue the case, Conway must deal with the suspicion that her squadmates have it in for her. She endures harassment that ranges from her locker being soaked with urine to the likelihood that someone is leaking information about her to the local press. Breslin, an older member of the squad, is assigned to the Murray case, perhaps to speed it to its most obvious conclusion, perhaps to bury it as quickly as possible. And, as if she doesn’t have enough to worry about, there’s a shadowy figure hanging around Conway’s house at night.

The interviews with various witnesses and suspects are highlights of the novel. To keep these scenes interesting, French has to walk a dangerous path, between disclosing too much too soon or letting the reader get too far ahead. She rarely stumbles.

Conway and Moran are a formidable team, ready to pounce on any discrepancy or spin their own improbable theories of how the murder occurred. Nothing they say has only one meaning, and it’s often up to the reader to tease out the hidden motivations of each speaker. Conway is clever and observant, but like all narrators, she’s unreliable, more influenced by the traumas of her childhood and adolescence than she’s willing to admit. In “The Trespasser,” everyone is keeping secrets, often from themselves.

Each Dublin Murder Squad book has stood far above the usual crime fiction fare, full of riveting plot reversals but with sufficient insight into the characters to attract readers with more literary sensibilities. Her debut, “In the Woods” was clearly something special, winning the Edgar, Barry, Macavity and Anthony awards, and she has upped her game ever since. “Broken Harbor,” published in the wake of the great global recession, is another standout, thanks to its pointed social commentary, and “The Secret Place” earned special acclaim from readers and critics.


“The Trespasser” seems talkier than some of the earlier books, taking more time than necessary to nail down every single plot point. But there’s a sense of genuine satisfaction in the way French concludes this book, neatly but with a dangerous edge.

Sharp, earthy and astute in its presentation of criminal psychology, “The Trespasser” is another winner from French, an exciting page-turner with thematic heft, a novel of vengeance and reinvention that succeeds on multiple levels.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: mlberry

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