The murder of Aislinn Murray looks like a big opportunity for Detective Antoinette Conway. She usually covers domestic disputes turned fatal, with clear perpetrators. This one is different. The victim in Tana French’s new novel, The Trespasser, has suffered an attack inside her own Dublin apartment. There are no signs of forced entry or burglary; clues suggest someone took great care to cover his or her tracks. The story’s tension goes beyond the thrill of solving the mystery, though: if Antoinette can crack this case, maybe her squad members (all men) will finally stop their campaign of harassment, and maybe whoever has been rifling through her paperwork will cease to do so.
Antoinette, the daughter of an Irish mother and an unknown father who’s responsible for her caramel skin, has been on the defensive since childhood, “when Ireland was still lily-white and I was the only brownish kid around, and my first ever nickname was Shiteface.” She’s an outsider on several levels–sex, race and class–and her colleagues won’t let her forget it. Their hazing has rattled her to a breaking point. “I can’t tell if this is batsh-t paranoia or the bleeding obvious slapping me in the face,” Antoinette says, when she begins to wonder if her own sweet-seeming partner, Steve, could be the one who’s out to get her.
Over six novels, French has built an eager fan base spanning readers of literature and thrillers. The books don’t form an official series and can be read in any order, but they are connected. Each narrator works on the fictional “Dublin Murder Squad,” and they appear in other books as partners or other minor characters. French often deals with the meaning of identity; past narrators have worked under an assumed name, or gone undercover. The Trespasser takes that idea even further, centering on a victim whose seemingly bland personality and generic good looks may have been adopted for sinister purposes.
Until the ending, which drags on too long after the perp is revealed, French keeps the reader pulling at the end of a tight leash with revelations about the unlikely links between Aislinn and Antoinette, two outsiders trying to make it in a city that doesn’t take well to strangers. “Anyone who turns herself into Barbie because that’s the only way she feels worthwhile needs a kick up the hole,” Antoinette says, musing on Aislinn, “but someone who does it for a revenge mission deserves a few points for determination.”
This appears in the October 17, 2016 issue of TIME.
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