Monday, July 05, 2010

Tana French turns the detective story inside out

Ed here: Reading Laura Miller is one of the real pleasures offered by the website Salon. Here she does an intriguing profile of Tana French's novels.

"Faithful Place": Tana French turns the detective story inside out
Part Raymond Chandler, part Roddy Doyle, crime fiction's rising star takes it into mesmerizing new territory

You know Frank Mackey's type. You've met him many, many times before, in hundreds of films and TV series and in dozens of crime novels. He's a police detective, in Dublin, and he's street-, rather than book-smart. He Doesn't Play by the Rules, which means that he's always ticking off The Brass, and, yes, he's something of a hothead, but that's because he can't stand the politics, and justice is so hard to come by for the innocent victims of this dirty world. He Gets the Job Done, Whatever the Cost, and his obsession with this has left him with a broken marriage under his belt. He has a lot of dark, haunted moments. But then there's Holly, his 9-year-old daughter, the one unsullied thing in his life; he'd do anything to protect her from the ugliness he's witnessed.

In other words, Frank looks like one of crime fiction's stock crusader types (although, thank god, he hasn't got a murdered family to avenge, the cheapest, tiredest device in the TV screenwriter's toolbox). He's the guy Raymond Chandler was talking about when he wrote, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."

Frank, however, is in a Tana French novel, an environment that makes Philip Marlowe's L.A. look like a church picnic. French herself doesn't play by the rules, and the prime rule of crime fiction, no matter how grisly, cynical or edgy, is that the plot begins with a disruption of order (the crime itself) and ends with the restoration of it, albeit in some slightly battered form. The guilty parties are identified and usually punished, secrets are unearthed and, above all, the world returns to intelligibility, however bitter the message it has to tell.

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