Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovering Tana French


I tend to veer away from books or movies that have had too much hype. Usually I think this is a smart thing to do, but sometimes I discover that the hype is incredibly well deserved. This is what happened when a friend was telling me how good Tana French's books are, and I decided to try the first one.

I feel stupid for not reading IN THE WOODS earlier. It got the Edgar Award for best first novel, but that's pretty much all I knew except people were raving about it. It looked to me like a horror novel; I didn't know too much about it except the author lives in Ireland. When I finally decided to give it a go back in early December, I wasn't prepared for just how much I was going to like it.

Tana French's use of language and character development is amazing. I was immediately drawn into the story of Rob Ryan, a Murder detective who'd been a victim of a crime when he was a child but who could not remember what had happened to him. Throughout the book he struggles with his amnesia about that, while investigating the murder of a child in the same woods where he'd been a victim.

I couldn't put the book down, and when I finished, I told my husband I wanted the second book, THE LIKENESS, for Christmas. What I like about French is that while this is sort of series, the books are only connected by characters from the previous book. In the second, the main character is Cassie Maddox, who was Rob's partner in the first book. But this book takes place after the events in IN THE WOODS, and takes us to Cassie's next assignment undercover.

I admit that I had to suspend disbelief in THE LIKENESS. Cassie looks so much like a murder victim that she's talked into taking that girl's place in order to try to catch the killer. But despite the obvious flaw in that premise, the story sucked me in and I believed that Cassie was able to pull it off and infiltrate the girl's life.

In FAITHFUL PLACE, the most recent of French's books, the main character is Frank Mackey, the undercover cop who talks Cassie into taking on the assignment in the previous book. Mackey is drawn back to his old neighborhood and a reunion with his family when it's suspected that his first love, the girl he was supposed to run away with to England when he was 20 and who left him with no explanation, might actually have not gotten away after all. The best thing about this book is the depiction of Frank's family, which comes to life on the page. I can picture them clearly through French's brilliant storytelling.

Each book is told from the first person point of view of the main character. French gets into each character and creates a whole new world in each book. If forced to pick a favorite, I think I have to say the first, IN THE WOODS. While I liked the other two and they are very strong stories, I think Rob's voice spoke most to me, and that story resonated just a little longer.

Have you read of any of Tana French's books? Do you tend to shy away from a book that's had too much hype?

7 comments:

Vicki Lane said...

I do often ignore the so-called block-busters and I too was late in discovering how good a writer French is. How really, really good.

Elizabeth said...

I read IN THE WOODS due to all the recommendations I was hearing for book 3. I like to read books in order so started with book 1. I also could not put it down. I plan on reading the other 2 in the future.

Anonymous said...

Chelsey read, and enjoyed, all three--and they have been in my "must read" piles for a while now. I have to agree that I had the same reaction as you when hearing the premise for book #2, but it sounds like it all worked out well in the end. Hearing your excitement makes me want to get to them that much sooner! Ah, so many books, so little time...

John

Kieran Shea said...

Honestly, I haven't read French because I was kind of annoyed that neither Chris Gofford (SNITCH JACKET) or Craig McDonald (HEAD GAMES) snagged the BFN Edgar that year...(especially Goffard--gosh he is such a talented journalist--check out his LA Times stuff)...any-hoo...French also gave off this freaky, gushing "theater-person" vibe in person that creeped me right the hell out, like you just KNEW she had a cape in her wardrobe and frequently sent back her food in restaurants. But you know me, Karen, I'm quick to judge. I suppose I should get around to her books....*sigh*

Karen Olson said...

Kieran, don't judge the books by the author. Pretend you don't know anything about the author and just try the first one. I resisted, too, so I totally understand. But the books really blew me away. That Edgar was very well deserved.

AnswerGirl said...

Tana French came to the LA Times Festival of Books the year she won the Edgar, and was lovely - don't hold her theatricality against her! (Now that you've given me the image, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see her in a cape. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I do hate the hype but I am midway through the second. Not as good as the first and she does overwrite, but still very compelling. And I rarely read a second book from the same author nowadays.