The Trespasser is the fifth novel in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. My introduction to the series came via the fourth installment, The Secret Place, which was bloated, peppered with overly elaborate try-too-hard prose and almost completely undone by a sprinkle of sheer daftness.
This time round, French has had a bit of a declutter: the prose is sharp rather than pointlessly dense. The plot, too, is kept relatively simple: it no longer drags or gets bogged down with implausible twists.
The case is apparently an open-and-shut one. A young woman, Aislinn Murray, is found murdered in her own home. Her new boyfriend, a nervy and suspicious character, was spotted lurking outside the property shortly before the body was discovered. So far so clear cut.
But the plot spirals compellingly outwards, all the while being tightly and skillfully controlled by French. What first appears to be a straightforward murder soon starts smacking of police corruption. Will the investigating officers have to start investigating their colleagues?
The plot is dark and gripping. And, whilst The Secret Place tried too hard to be literary, this novel does it effortlessly. Keeping the plot relatively pared back allows French to touch upon a range of themes. The most significant theme of here is that of identity and the narratives we construct around ourselves. Too often in the novel these narratives are built on questionable assumptions and lead the characters into danger:
I was doing exactly the same thing as Aislinn: getting lost so deep inside the story in my head, I couldn’t see past its walls to the outside world.
The Trespasser would work perfectly well as a standalone, but it does feature the same detective pairing as The Secret Place, detectives Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway. Conway takes centre stage here, acting as the first-person narrator. Her character grated on me a little in the previous installment in the series. Here, though, she is magnificent. The trespasser of the title refers as much to Conway as it does to Aislinn’s murderer. Not only is Conway a woman in what is still very much a man’s world, but she is mixed race and doesn’t conform to the standard notions of femininity. She is funny, fierce and intelligent. Her insights into being an outsider are sharp and, quite frankly, I’m thinking of having her finest quotes printed onto wallpaper and then decorating my home with them. Like this one, for instance:
No one needs a relationship. What you need is the basic cop-on to figure that out, in the face of all the media bullshit screaming that you’re nothing on your own and you’re a dangerous freak if you disagree. The truth is, if you don’t exist without someone else, you don’t exist at all.
Additionally, one of The Secret Place‘s few strengths was Conway’s partnership with Moran and it yields even more golden – and occasionally laugh-out-loud – moments here.
All in all, then, I’d say that The Trespasser has everything: a gripping plot, fantastic characters, wit and wisdom.