Stephanie Merritt

A closing of ranks: The Searcher, by Tana French, reviewed

A private investigator meets with a wall of silence after an adolescent vanishes without trace in tight-knit rural Ireland

Tana French. Credit: Alamy

If the homage wasn’t clear from the title, Tana French makes sure throughout The Searcher, her seventh novel and second stand-alone, that there’s no doubt which genre we’re in. ‘We’ll bring you for a pint, welcome you to the Wild West,’ a cheery local Garda tells her hero, Cal Hooper. ‘They used this rifle in the Wild West,’ Cal explains to someone later, when he gets his Henry shotgun. Cal is a former Chicago cop, recently retired and divorced, and the lawless west here is the west of Ireland, where he has bought a beat-up old farm in search of ‘a small place. A small town in a small country. It seemed like that would be easier to make sense of. Guess I might’ve had that wrong.’

He does, of course; a local kid, Trey, whose brother Brendan has been missing for six months, drafts Cal into helping to solve the mystery. The community regards Trey’s family as ‘wasters’. As Cal digs deeper, it appears that there is not merely a lack of interest in uncovering the truth about Brendan’s disappearance but an active closing of ranks against anyone who tries.

French’s novels frequently consider questions of identity, and what happens to characters when their sense of self is tested to breaking point. The Searcher is her first book not to be set in Dublin, and though she relishes the spare beauty of the landscape, her interest is in the relationship between the land and the people who spend their lives working it. Rural Ireland is still a place young men want to escape from: ‘The rest are hanging themselves, or they’re getting drunk and driving into ditches, or they’re overdosing on the aul’ heroin, or they’re packing their bags,’ Cal’s neighbour Mart tells him.

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