French, Tana. The Trespasser.

NY: Viking, 2016.

Almost from her first book about the exploits (if you can call them that) of the Dublin Murder Squad, I’ve become a solid fan of French’s writing style and her skill in uncovering and exploring the personalities and souls of her characters. Each outstanding volume has been better even than the previous ones, and this sixth outing is the best yet.

We met Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran in The Secret Place, when she was trying to make name for herself and he was trying to break into the Squad. Both are in their early thirties and they’ve been partners for eight months now, doing mostly scut work involving drunks killing each other, and it’s turning out to be a long, hard slog. Especially for Conway, who is both female and mixed race (she assumes, though she never knew her father), and whom the Good Ol’ Boys in Murder would love to see returned to the lower levels of the police force where they think she belongs. The whole experience has made her bitter, combative, and pugnacious in her private life as well — what there is of it. Moran, a completely different sort of personality, sticks with her — she doesn’t really understand why — and they seem to be developing pretty well as a team. But can she really trust him? Because she knows he’d fit right in on the Squad in an instant if she weren’t around.

Then the boss hands them a case which may or may not be a homicide, in which a young woman has been found dead in her small cottage, which is actually in Conway’s own neighborhood. And they’re assigned Detective Breslin, a swaggering and superior sort, as a sort of minder and mentor — the implication being that they’re not really up to this level of case. Of course, Conway and Moran start finding evidence that the case is a good deal more than it seems. And they can’t bring themselves to accept the “obvious” guilt of their only real suspect. And if they don’t get it right, this may be their last week in the Murder Squad.

This episode is a bit different from the earlier ones in that nearly all of the action takes place either in the squad room itself or elsewhere in the building, with only a couple of brief visits to the scene of the crime. The emphasis is very much on investigative procedure, not cops-and-robbers action. French constantly shows herself a master of the language and of narrative, with observations like “The vic’s home is your shot at getting a handle on this person you’re never going to meet.” And Conway’s comment that “Sometimes I worry that if I work with Steve for too long, I’m gonna turn into a sweetheart.” And we learn a great deal about the personal life of the victim, too, making her as strong and believable a character as those who are still alive. French has become one of my handful of “automatic” authors: Anything she writes, I want to read.

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