- - Thursday, September 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE TRESPASSER

By Tana French

Viking, $27, 464 pages

Members of the Murder Squad in the Dublin police department are as tough as you would expect and in at least one case, tougher than need be. Antoinette Conway is the only woman in the Murder Squad and she is not popular. In fact she is thoroughly disliked and seems to relish it.

She is good at her job but has only one colleague, Steve Moran, who can stand the fierceness of her personality. It is as if she enjoys invoking antipathy in her colleagues, and she leaves herself open to unpleasant behavior. It is, of course, all their fault and she is always ready to respond with a snarl. Death does not disturb Antoinette. Faced with the corpse of a pretty blond woman who has been murdered, she dismisses her as a “dead Barbie.” And it is difficult to sympathize with Antoinette’s genuine unhappiness because she seems to nurture it.

The twisted personality of Antoinette dominates this psychological thriller where the plot depends on carefully constructed and complex dialogue between people who don’t like each other and have the power to do each other considerable professional damage. Like the senior detectives who are part of the anti-Antoinette force and with reason. The difficult detective’s skill at her job emerges when she has to interview people involved in crime and suspected of crime. The book is filled with Antoinette’s analysis of the world around her and what is wrong with the people in it. Tana French is a talented writer who knows how to cope with tortured subjects and it is only when dealing with Moran, Antoinette’s only ally, that she allows her characters to act like human beings. The question is who killed pretty Aislinn and was she far more complicated as a person than anyone thought. Suspicion falls on the young man with whom she was to have dinner on the night of her death, but Antoinette, who looks for the darker side of the mind, becomes convinced that a crooked detective is involved. Most straight law enforcement officers detest those whom they call “bent” cops who give in to the temptation of accepting bribes and winding up with more money than they honestly earn.

Probably the highlight of the book is the chapter in which Antoinette interviews the best friend of the victim, and proves what she is as a detective and as someone capable of compassion. As she draws information from the other woman, she recognizes her pain and her grief and the case suddenly falls into a line of truth. It is up to Antoinette and the loyal Steve to put together a puzzle that leaves them no choice except to single out at the criminal who has been in their line of vision from the beginning.

The denouement is quiet and deeply sad, and it takes a veteran to recognize its necessity and to see it as part of the slow development of two young detectives who are finally brought to understand the psychological enormity of what they have unearthed. It is especially stunning for the arrogant Antoinette who comes to recognize the reality of her situation and her failures in treatment of those she must work with. It is the humanizing of Antoinette that the author ultimately achieves, and it is made clear that the young detective has to acknowledge her own capacity for suffering in order to deal with others.

This is less a thriller than an analytical study of the complexities of crime detection and the importance of the human link between those who comprise the Murder Squad. It is clear that Antoinette is a broken link and it remains uncertain that her detecting skills can repair what is missing in her psychological structure. It is a crucial weakness and it is not certain she realizes that it can destroy her usefulness.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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