Antoinette Conway and her partner, Stephen Moran, are rookies and outsiders on the Dublin Murder Squad. Just as they're about to finish up their night shift, the boss gives them another dud case: Aislinn Murray has been reported dead via an anonymous call to a local police station. It was obviously her boyfriend, with whom she had a dinner date planned. Open-and-closed. So why does the boss put a senior detective, Breslin, on the case to watch over them? And why does his help seem more like obstruction?
While mysteries, Tana French's novels defy the most basic genre conventions. For example, French resists the tendency to explain everything neatly and completely at the end of her books. She also explores the psychology and motivations of her characters—the detectives as much as the suspects—in great depth.
In The Trespasser, the overarching theme is not the simple question of whodunit?, but the way people tell stories to make sense of their circumstances. This starts with a catalog of false stories from Conway's mother about who her father really is and why he's not around. It continues with Conway and Moran madly spinning theories of the Murray case, hypothesizing about who killed her and why. There are the versions of the story Conway tells herself about why she is so poorly-treated by the squad, and how Moran, Breslin, and other squad members interpret the same set of facts. And finally, the differing explanations of who really killed Murray.
How Moran and Conway make sense of why Murray's killer did what he did, and ultimately how that story is understood by Breslin, the boss, and the perpetrator himself is central to the novel. While Breslin keeps telling Conway that understanding the killer’s motives is incidental to solving the case, the only thing that allows Conway and Moran to get to the truth is that they take the time to explore what kinds of stories Murray and the people around her told themselves, and what they allowed themselves to believe.
This is perhaps my favorite entry so far in Tana French's excellent Dublin Murder Squad series. I love the depth and complexity of the characters, and I am absolutely delighted with the prickly and bull-headed Antoinette Conway as the lead detective. As mentioned previously, French doesn't always hew to genre conventions, so these books do not need to be read in order, since each new mystery in the series follows a detective who is a supporting character in the previous novel (although French breaks even that convention here, reprising the Conway and Moran partnership from her previous novel, The Secret Place). If you want to start with The Trespasser, you won't have to work very hard to catch up. Do yourself a favor, though, and start at the beginning of the series. Not because you won’t understand what's going on, but because each book in the series is a pleasure to read.