For a first book, this was amazing. However, in the grand scheme of unsolved crime, police procedural and historical mysteries, this left something to be desired. After thinking on it, I think it was because the author attempted too much. Impressive, mind you. But rather than doing a epicurean feast mostly-well, I tend to prefer simpler fare prepared very well.
It begins with a scene from 1993, when a brand new police officer–<i>guarda,</i> in Ireland–is assigned to a call for a ‘minor domestic.’ It turns out that it is the falling-down home of a fifteen year-old girl, Maude, her six year-old brother, Jack, and their quite dead mother. It jumps forward twenty years and one month to 2013, and the perspective of Aisling, a young surgeon in-training who has just discovered she is pregnant, a dream-killer for her pediatric surgical residency. The next chapter switches to the viewpoint of the officer, now a detective, as he roots through the cold-case files in the small station at Galway.
We know eventually the stories of Aisling and the officer, Cormac, are going to intersect, and they do, but not before Maude also reappears. Meanwhile, both Aisling and Cormac have their own trials to deal with, which rather prohibits either of them from paying solid attention to the investigation.
Unfortunately, that lack of attention is the result, I think, of some choices that served plot over character. Cormac was easy to believe as a person; however, he was completely unbelievable as a hard-hitting, elite task force, Type-A detective. So that was weird, since we were supposed to be in his head and we have this incongruity. We were told quite a bit that he was part of an elite Dublin force, he climbed the ranks, guarda in Galway are jealous, etc., but we weren’t shown any such thing, and his behavior in this small town force seemed distracted and lackadaisical, particularly as he delegated all sorts of grunt work to another guarda, Fisher. And don’t get me started on his surprise about child abuse and inability to work a social worker file.
It’s little things like that that interrupted my sense of story; I’d follow along, and then be told how something was, and then Logic Brain would come in and say, Wait, Wut? Stupid Logic Brain. A couple times I wasn’t sure I believed striving Resident Surgeon either, but then filed it under Grieving Partner.
Anyway, it’s stuff like that that definitely makes it Not Tana French. Really, marketers; talk about setting someone up to fail. Although, honestly, word is that the last Tana French also was Not Tana French, so there you go. I guess it’s like Tana because it is also about the historical roots of a mystery. McTiernan tries to do a ton in this book: (mild spoilers) (view spoiler) and it ends up feeling a little too surface for me. It’s one of those books that I really wanted to like, and thought I ought to like, but it really never set it’s hook. I was pretty sure I figured out at least part of the issue, peeked at the ending, and convinced myself I had to finish reading now that I knew how it would all play.
And I’d never do that with a French book, because there would be no percentage in it.
I also didn’t like that the story relied on (major spoiler) the killer being a sociopath. Just, ugh. Such a trope. It’s like it excuses all the other characters from being unobservant, and excuses the author from coming up with an actual, you know, reason for the killing. It’s like the murder mystery version of writing about the 1%.