Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th November 2020 from Viking
A DISAPPEARANCE. A SMALL TOWN. A QUESTION THAT NEEDS ANSWERING…
Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a remote Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force, and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens.
But then a local kid comes looking for his help. His brother has gone missing, and no one, least of all the police, seems to care. Cal wants nothing to do with any kind of investigation, but somehow he can’t make himself walk away.
Soon Cal will discover that even in the most idyllic small town, secrets lie hidden, people aren’t always what they seem, and trouble can come calling at his door.
You might be forgiven for thinking that Tana French’s The Searcher is vaguely familiar. Cast your mind back to John Ford’s classic movie. An American Civil War veteran spends years looking for his abducted niece, taking his adoptive nephew on his journey. Tana French’s novel is an homage to Ford’s The Searchers.
Cal Hooper is no civil war veteran, but he is a veteran cop, retired after 25 bruising years in the Chicago Police Department where he saw first-hand everything that was wrong with contemporary policing. He’s had his fill of brutality from his colleagues and of seeing kids on the streets who don’t believe him when he says Black Lives Matter. Cal’s also just been through a hard divorce and though he loves his daughter wholeheartedly, has taken himself out of the country and bought a tumbledown cottage in Ardnakelty, a small rural community in the West of Ireland.
He wants nothing more than to spend time in peace, working with his hands to renovate his new home and to know that as he listens to his Johnny Cash albums at full volume, there’s no-one around to disturb.
Tana French’s novel is a character study of a man burnt out and disillusioned. Cal is a good cop in a bad world seeking a measure of peace and space to recover his equilibrium. He’s not completely isolated, of course. There’s a village not too far away that supplies his provisions. A neighbour, Mart, drops by every now and again to shoot the breeze and cadge a packet of biscuits, but by and large it is a solitary existence and that’s the way Cal likes it.
But when he becomes aware he is being watched, everything changes. His cop instincts kick in and soon he is face to face with Trey, a 13 year old urchin who has heard that Cal is a cop and wants him to look for his missing brother, Brendan.
Now, I really liked this book, but not really for the plot as much as the tackling of some pretty deep rooted issues. I liked the very slow burn, the wonderful descriptions of the Irish rural landscape and the seemingly laconic locals who are all affable on the face of it, but just as capable of nursing serious grudges for decades. French has a way of showing you what lies underneath the folksy land of the Irish and revealing a series of unpalatable truths which have their roots in the political and economic landscape of the harsh rural economy that is 21st Century Ireland.
She beautifully turns the screw on her characters so that we begin to understand that there’s a lot going on below the surface and that for every friendly gesture, sure there’s maybe the most delicate hint of something else as well. That sense of things below the surface, of a small town atmosphere turning from quaint to something altogether more claustrophobic and unsettling is part of what makes this book so interesting.
Cal is a man who has cone to Ardnakelty in search of peace and slowly he finds that what he always thought he understood about justice; what he understood about himself and his own moral principles is in need of re-examination and re-evaluation.
Verdict: A very slow burn, full of delicious prose that provides a backdrop to understanding that the ethical code that Cal has lived by may not be relevant any more. The Searcher is a contemplative piece of wonderful writing wrapped round a mystery. Cal’s voice, which starts as so strong and resolute, is transformed by his investigative journey. I don’t think it’s slow pace will be for everyone, but I thought it a remarkable piece of completely compelling writing.
Tana French is the author of The Searcher, In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.