In my search for a new novelist – new to me that is – in the psychological mystery genre, I found Tara French. With credits from Stephen King – “Terrific – terrifying, amazing, and the prose is incandescent.” – and the Washington Post’s Maureen Corrigan – “French is a poet of mood and master builder of plots.” – I decided to give her a try with her newest 2020 novel. Having now read The Searcher, I understand the title of “the First Lady of Irish Crime” given to French by The Independent. The narrative is told by Cal Hooper, an ex Chicago Police Department detective. Burned out, after twenty five years of police work, and retired, Cal goes “searching” for a new life, hoping to find some measure of peace in a small village in western Ireland.
Recently divorced and disillusioned by the direction his career as a detective is leading, Cal leaves the United States behind and seeks the slower pace of rural Ireland. He takes on the task of restoring a broken down cottage (reflective of his need to restore personal relationships), with hopes of using his carpentry skills, and looks forward to the fishing and the hunting his acreage provides. In addition, cooking rabbit stew and frying perch are culinary skills that fit the retirement agenda. This laid back lifestyle, however, does not last long. As Cal meets his neighbor, Mart, and other village locals, he realizes what a tightly knit community he has moved into. The village of Ardnakelty, with it’s own code of rules and morals, has much to share and much to keep secret. This is an atmospheric read. Cal’s cottage, the woods, the mountain and the village all play significant roles in the story. The expert and vivid descriptions of all put you right there in rural Ireland.
Cal’s seemingly peaceful new life takes a turn when a local almost feral kid begins to stalk him. Cal puts an end to the stalking and confronts the thirteen old named Trey. He finds out that Trey wants to enlist him, with his detective skills, to help find a missing older brother, Brendan. Trey, from “the good for nothing” Reddy family on the mountain, is not in sync with the villagers lifestyle and is bent on discovering what happened to Brendan. The relationship between Cal and Trey is heart warming and works to hold the book together.
With no legal right to pursue detective work in Ireland, Cal treads carefully in questioning Brendan’s acquaintances. However, answers are hard to come by and each new approach meets with greater silence.,
“Their decades of familiarity, which seemed like a comfort at the beginning of last night, weave themselves into an impenetrable thicket; its layers obscure every action and every motivation till they’re near indecipherable to an outsider.”
Subtle warnings to back away grow into more dangerous situations as Cal and Trey doggedly search for the truth.
Cal reflects on a colony of rooks living in an oak tree in his yard. He attempts to become acquainted with the rooks by offering tasty bits to lure them closer. The birds outwit him to get the treats and then cackle at his attempts at friendship. The correlation to Cal’s own relationship with the local Irishmen is interesting. Mart, Cal’s Irish neighbor, is a fan of the cookies Cal provides him with, as a friendly gesture, and yet, Mart harbors secrets with the town residents. The picture is clear at the end of the novel, when all the leaves have fallen and Cal views the oak trees from his front window.
“The rooks’ oak tree is bare, exposing the big straggly twig balls of their nests in the crook of every branch. In the next tree over, there’s a lone nest to mark where, some time along the way, some bird infringed on their mysterious laws and got taught a lesson.”
Cal, the outsider, gets taught a lesson in the mysterious ways of a small village in western Ireland.
As for the title, The Searcher, there are many questions. Does Cal find what he is searching for? Does Trey’s searching result in discovery? What is the goal of searching for answers? Is it truth? Is it justice? Without giving away too much, this is an extremely satisfying read.
As a first time reader of Tana French, I am hooked. Next, I expect to delve into her Dublin Crime Squad novels, starting with In The Woods.