Following 2018’s The Witch Elm, Tana French is back with another stand-alone novel, distinct from her successful “Dublin Murder Squad” series.
The Searcher moves cross-country, away from French’s usual Dublin and its environs, to the rural west coast of Ireland. In another change of pace, the main character is a transplanted American. Cal Hooper, a self-acknowledged good ole boy from North Carolina, has retired early, at forty-eight, from the Chicago Police Department. His career as a detective soured, his marriage disintegrated, and his adult daughter is living in Seattle, immersed in her own job and a relationship.
“The West of Ireland looked beautiful on the internet,” and that’s how Cal picked out his new home; and “from right smack in the middle of it, it looks even better.” Cal needed a break, and he’s found it, in this landscape: “The sky, dappled in subtle gradations of gray, goes on forever; so do the fields, coded in shades of green by their different uses, divided up by sprawling hedges, dry-stone walls and the odd narrow back road. Away to the north, a line of low mountains rolls along the horizon.”
He’s seeking an uncomplicated life and believes he’s found it:
He sits at the bar, orders a pint of Smithwick’s from Barty and listens to the music for a while. He doesn’t have the names in here straight yet, although he has most of the faces, and the gist of the personalities and relationships. This is excusable, given that Seán Óg’s clientele is a shifting bunch of clean-shaven white guys over forty, all wearing more or less the same hardy trousers and padded vets and ancient sweaters, and most of them looking like cousins; but the truth is that, after maintaining an intricate mental database of everyone he met on the job, Cal enjoys the lackadaisical feeling of not bothering to remember whether Sonny is the one with the big laugh or the one with the cauliflower ear. He has a good handle on who he should avoid or seek out, depending on whether he’s in the mood for talk and what kind, and figures that’s plenty to keep him going.
This being a Tana French novel, it doesn’t take much longer for Cal to be disabused of his notion. The action builds slowly, sometimes achingly so, but it’s worth the wait. French’s writing is so good—lavish in evocative details, prickling with vague menace—that every scene is its own reward.