A bestselling author always takes a risk publishing a stand alone when fans are waiting for the next volume in a popular series. Tana French’s mysteries featuring the Dublin Murder Squad have built up a loyal base. Her latest is a departure and one sure to be loved by some readers and disappoint others.
Burned out after 25 years in the Chicago Police Department, Cal Hooper retires and moves to a small village in western Ireland. Divorced from Donna and trying to mend his relationship with his daughter, Alyssa, Cal hopes that some time away will help rejuvenate his spirit. He purchases a rundown cabin, looking forward to restoring the structure himself. As a newcomer, he expects the locals will be standoffish. Instead, in the small village, everyone is in everyone else’s business. With someone new in town, Cal finds himself attracting attention, sometimes for the wrong reasons.
His neighbor, Mart, stops by frequently, ostensibly to be helpful in acclimating Cal to local customs and pastimes, including spending time at a local pub, Seán Óg’s, where drinking hard spirits to excess is the norm. Noreen, who runs a shop in town, is eager to fix Cal up with her widowed sister, Lena. But the one resident who catches Cal by surprise is a young person, Trey, who wants help finding an older brother, Brendan, 19. Although Cal has downplayed his previous career, the kid knows he was a cop who often located missing people. But without a badge and a gun (his permit has yet to be approved), Cal doesn’t believe he could mount a serious investigation. And in such a small hamlet, once he begins questioning people, things could get difficult, maybe even dangerous.
Trey’s family, The Reddys, are on the last rung of the village’s social ladder. Trey’s father, Johnny, deserted the family, moving to London, while the mother, Sheila, tries her best to care for her children. But when Brendan goes missing, she refuses to call the guards, knowing they won’t help. Trey views Cal as a last hope.
Trey keeps stopping by Cal’s cottage, helping sand a desk and paint a few walls. Eventually Cal agrees to help, but warns Trey he might not be able to find out much since he still suspects that Brendan left to escape his dismal home life. He has another more sob bering though – that Brendan might already be dead, something he doesn’t share with Trey.
As Cal predicted, once he starts questioning Brendan’s friends and others, his actions draw do not go unnoticed. And he soon realizes that even the friendliness people in the village not only have something to hide but may have been involved with what happened to Brendan. Circumstances soon turn violent, threatening both Cal and Trey.
French is skilled at creating characters you want to spend time with and even though the plot in The Searcher moves slowly, for the most part, the enjoyment comes with following along on Cal’s efforts to find Brendan. Her descriptions of the scenery bring the Irish village and countryside alive. We can almost smell the peat and feel our feet sinking into the bogs that Cal can’t seem to avoid. And those rooks! Members of the crow family, the birds create a backdrop that is at times familiar and at other times menacing. (Shades of Hitchcock’s The Birds.)
Whether Cal stays in Ireland is unclear at the end of the book. Could The Searcher become another French series? We can hope.
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