On boggy ground: Tana French’s The Searcher (Ireland)

Tana French, The Searcher, Penguin 2020

First line: When Cal comes out of the house, the rooks have got hold of something. 

I loved this crime novel’s premise: a Chicago police detective takes early retirement after twenty-five years of service and a tricky divorce, and starts over in rural west Ireland. While fixing up his dilapidated house, he’s approached by a local teenager whose older brother has gone missing. Will he help?

Characterisation and location are at the heart of this novel, so everything unfolds at a leisurely pace. We come to know ex-cop Cal Hooper, teenager Trey and the inhabitants of Ardnaskelty, and get a feel for the dynamics of village life. While Cal really doesn’t want to get involved, Trey’s invisibility as the child of a poor family disliked by the community bothers him. Before he knows it, he’s started to investigate – and to stir things up.

Something about Cal reminded me of an old-fashioned sheriff in Westerns like High Noon. He has moral codes and a strong sense of right and wrong, but soon realises that things are more complex than he could ever have dreamed. Choices will have to be made, and the ground he walks on as an outsider is extremely boggy in parts – literally and metaphorically.

The Searcher is a thoughtful and satisfying crime novel with a particularly keen sense of place – conveyed both though its descriptions of nature and brilliant dialogue. Tourist Board Ireland this ain’t, but it’ll have a grip on you by the end.

Reading The Searcher reminded me of two other excellent (literary) crime novels.

In Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone (2006), teenager Ree searches for her missing father amid the grinding rural poverty of the American Ozarks. Trey’s brittle toughness and determination put me in mind of Ree, and the novel’s sense of place and dialogue are equally evocative. Jennifer Lawrence starred in the much-lauded film.

And then we have Jess Kidd’s Himself (2016), which is one of my all-time favourite crime novels. Like The Searcher, it’s set in a remote Irish village with an eccentric cast of characters, and traces a young man’s search for Orla, his vanished mother. It’s a freewheeling, psychedelic, wholly original portrait of 1970s rural Ireland, and although it’s tonally quite different to The Searcher, it also explores the secrecy and darkness that outwardly respectable communities hide.

Wishing you all a wonderful Easter break filled with bunnies, chocolate and plenty of crime! 

10 thoughts on “On boggy ground: Tana French’s The Searcher (Ireland)

  1. I very much want to read The Searcher, Mrs. P. I like Tana French’s work very much, and she does an especially good job of evoking place and atmosphere. It sounds as though that’s the case here, too. And it’s interesting to see her non-Dublin-Murder-Squad work.

    • This is actually the first novel by Tana French that I’ve read, Margot. I’ve had the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ series on my list for a while, and know that it’s been richly praised. From what I’ve read online, The Searcher has a gentler pace to suit a very different kind of story. I’m definitely keen to read more of her work now.

      • The Dublin Murder Squad series is excellent, I recommend it. One of the TV companies tried to merge the first two books and made an absolute hash of it, if you saw it, Mrs P, please don’t let it put you off the books. I didn’t get on with The Wych Elm but thoroughly enjoyed The Searcher, Cal Hooper is a wonderful character.

      • Thanks for the recommendation, JanH – I’ll push the DMS series up the list. Luckily, I haven’t seen the TV series you mentioned… I reckon The Searcher would make a great film. Someone like a young Jeff Bridges in the role of Cal?

    • Something of a departure for French, perhaps, but she really pulls it off. I particularly liked the fish-out-of-water policeman idea. Hope you enjoy, June Lorraine!

  2. When I retire and move to the west of Ireland, I have precisely no intention of coming back out of retirement to help anybody. Fortunately, it is unlikely there will be a need to run a call centre (which is what I do) as I suspect it won’t make the most thrilling reading.

    Thanks for the review, I will give it a look

    • That made me laugh, James! You’ll probably end up putting your skills to new use in spite of those good intentions: managing a donkey sanctuary, perhaps?! Hope you enjoy the book!

  3. I really enjoyed this novel too – the cast of characters was really engaging I thought and the story kept me interested right to the end. I have read everything by Tana French, I think, and I’m always happy to see new works come out. I usually listen to novels while doing practical work or art, and I really wish Audible had a system that could inform me when new novels by my favourite authors are published. Is there another site where I could get this service, do you know?

    • Hi Pip – really glad to hear you enjoyed The Searcher! Like you, I like listening to Audible while doing something practical or going for a walk. And you’ve hit on a really great idea re alerts for new works by fav authors. Audible should get onto this right away and pay you a commission!

      I’m not aware of any site that specializes in this kind of service — the only thing I can think of is a bit basic: to check the author’s website or sign up for their newsletters (many seem to send one out quarterly or similar).

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