Mystery and suspense THE SEARCHER

Nov. 29, 2020

Review

The Searcher

Tana French

reviewed by Melissa Buehner

 

Tana French is so good.

For me, she’s a bit like Stephen King. By this, I mean – she can write on and on (and on and on) about the minutest, most mundane details of everyday life, and I lap it all up. Time and again. Every page of it, regardless of the subject matter.

She could write an entire chapter describing the tranquility of drying paint, and I would devotedly hang on her every word. She could write about nothing, and it would leave me begging for more.

Consistently, French’s crime novels are better than most, if not always excellent, and her latest standalone, The Searcher, is no exception. Even though it may somewhat pale in comparison to her Dublin Murder Squad series and not be my favorite of her novels, it is still, in its own right, an immersive, compelling, and superbly-written literary mystery.

Looking for a fresh start, Cal Hooper leaves the city life behind to move to small-town Ireland. Recently divorced and newly retired from the Chicago police force, he purchases a derelict house in the Irish countryside, determined to peacefully spend his days renovating his new home.

Until a local kid, Trey Reddy, comes calling, asking for his help. Trey’s brother, Brendan, has gone missing, and Trey is desperate to find him. Not wanting to be part of an investigation, Cal first refuses to become involved. But thanks to Trey’s unorthodox powers of persuasion, Cal’s resolve slowly crumbles. Soon, Cal and Trey have trouble coming at them from all sides as they find themselves trapped in a dangerous web of secrets and lies.

The Searcher is one of those novels that sneaks up on you. It crawls under your skin, digs into your bones, and slowly consumes every inch of you.

While reading it, I was aware that I was enjoying it.  And I knew that for too long, I had sorely missed the depth of French’s writing. But it’s almost as if I didn’t fully comprehend how engrossed I was in the story. It was only when I put the book down and walked away from it that I realized how constant of a presence Trey and Cal were in my mind, how relentlessly the story lingered in my thoughts.

Instinct and years of reading experience, however, indicate that my love for The Searcher will not be shared by all. Those who enjoy mysteries with quick tempos and nonstop twists may find it to be lacking the excitement they crave. For the novel slowly burns at a low flame, with a deliberately steady tempo. The story is never hurried. It’s never rushed. And the pace never quickens, with the ending even being slow to unfold, straight through to the final page.

As with all of French’s novels, The Searcher is also fueled foremostly by its characters, rather than the plot. Therefore, I think some readers may find the novel to be tedious. I, for one, adore character-driven stories. And for what it’s worth, I believe French writes some of the best. Her meticulous characterization skills are revered far and wide. She is so practiced at it that, for her, it’s virtually a science. It’s as if her characters leap from the page, they feel that alive.

And she doesn’t only do this with her major characters, such as Cal and Trey. She gives her minor characters the same treatment. Cal’s neighbors and the various townspeople are just as brilliantly crafted, with uniquely individual personalities.

In this novel, too, the landscape is larger than life. The mountains, plains, and bogs of the Irish countryside are all richly described and carefully constructed on the page. French puts forth as much effort into creating the atmosphere and setting as she does her characters.

The mystery of Brendan’s disappearance, though, is where the novel slightly stutters. The who, what, where, and why of it are fairly transparent. Furthermore, it’s tough to believe that Cal, a seasoned detective from Chicago, fails to immediately see all that is before him. Especially when I can effortlessly link the puzzle pieces together from my reading chair.

In the end, the obvious solution to the what happened and the whodunit did not in any way dilute my pleasurable reading experience. The Searcher is, hands down, one of the best mysteries I have read all year. If not, the best.

And once again, I am left begging for more.

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