The Searcher

by French, Tana

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On Dec 25, 2020, Anonymous said:

"He enjoys this rain. It has no aggression to it; its steady rhythm and the scents it brings in through the windows gentle the house's shabbiness, giving it a homey feel. He's learned to see the landscape changing under it, greens turning richer and wildflowers rising. It feels like an ally, rather than the annoyance it is in the city."

The Searcher is the second stand-alone novel by award-winning Irish author, Tana French. Cal Hooper is settling into his dilapidated house on a piece of land near the tiny village of Ardnakelty in the west of Ireland. He's enjoying the challenge of restoring the place to liveable, and walks in the bracing country air. The locals are more welcoming than he had expected, and he looks forward to fishing, hunting rabbits for stew, and making friends with a treeful of rooks.

He's also enjoying the fact that his "mental alarm systems were switched off, the way he wanted them" but, as he works on mending an old desk out in the yard with his grandfather's tools, "the back of his neck flared. The back of Cal's neck got trained over twenty-five years in the Chicago PD. He takes it seriously" so he waits patiently until the cause, a young teen, gains the confidence to show a face, and even longer, to make a request: worries over the disappearance, six months earlier, of an older brother, plague this younger sibling.

Trey Reddy is convinced that nineteen-year-old Brendan, who would never have left without saying where he was going, has been kidnapped, but the Reddy Family's poor reputation almost guarantees dismissal by the Guard. Cal considers it likely that the young man has run: either to something better than the village can promise; or from some threat, perhaps for something he has done. Could those Dublin drug boys in the pub be involved? Here, though, Cal has no authority, no resources.

Quite contrary his every intention, Cal finds himself making what he believes are subtle enquiries about Brendan Reddy. Of course, in a tiny village like Ardnakelty: "A guy can't pick his nose around here without the whole townland telling him to wash his hands" and he finds himself on the end of an equally subtle warning off. He's made Trey a promise: will he now leave it there? Because "It feels like a vast, implacable failing in his character that he can't come up with just one good solution to offer this scrawny, dauntless kid."

This plays out against a background of hard-drinking local farmers, sheep being mutilated in the night and the youth who don't escape to the city tending towards either mischief or suicide. And in the back of his mind, forty-eight-year-old Cal is still haunted by the failure of his marriage and concerns for the daughter he has somehow apparently let down.

Whatever readers might expect from Tana French, this one is no fast-paced, action-packed thriller; in store is a slow burn read that allows the reader to get to know the protagonist well, to understand this principled ex-cop, his philosophy of life and his observations: "around here mockery is like rain: most of the time it's either present or incipient, and there are at least a dozen variants, ranging from nurturing to savage, and so subtly distinguished that it would take years to get the hang of them all". The support cast, too, is a pleasure to meet: quirky villagers of whom Cal takes their measure to tailor his words and actions to fit. Nonetheless, the plot is intriguing, with red herrings and a twist or two to keep it interesting.

The Irish landscape itself is a character in this novel, and French's descriptive prose is often exquisite: "The next morning is all soft mist, dreamy and innocent, pretending yesterday never happened." With more than one local intent on matchmaking Cal with available women, and a poteen party, there's plenty of dry and sometimes dark humour, not the least in Cal's inner monologue, but also in some of the dialogue: "Face on her like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle." Utterly enthralling. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK.

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The Searcher

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2020
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THE SEARCHER

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The Searcher

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