I really, really liked Tana French's novel In the Woods, but was ambivalent about her follow up, The Likeness. The premise was interesting, I enjoyed most of the characters, but the main character got on my nerves a bit, or at least her actions in the novel did. Faithful Place was right up there with In the Woods for me, though. Something about reading French's Dublin-set novels tends to remind me of Dennis Lehane's Boston mystery novels - the tight knit communities that are closed to outsiders, the tough guys and women that populate them, the dysfunctional families. This is definitely a good thing because I love Lehane.
Faithful Place is narrated by Frank Mackey, who played a supporting role in The Likeness (much like the narrator of that novel had a supporting role in In the Woods) - I like how French isn't exactly writing a series, but keeps returning to familiar characters and giving them all a chance to tell their story. Frank works in undercover, his marriage has failed, and he has not spoken to his dysfunctional family with the exception of his little sister since he left 22 years before to start a new life with his girlfriend Rosie. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned, and Rosie didn't go with him, so instead of going to London, he ended up on the police force in Dublin. Still, he has enjoyed his work, and hasn't regretted his lack of contact with his family though he has wondered about Rosie, his first great love on occasion.
His little sister tells him that some people found a suitcase in an old abandoned building that the kids used to hang out in, and that his mother has possession of it. With this simple act, he becomes involved in his family's lives again, and starts questioning what he knew about his past, because it is quite clear that it is Rosie's suitcase. While he is investigating the building, he and his brother also discover a body later, and Frank has to start reevaluating everything he thought was true: he had spent his entire life believing that Rosie chose not to go with him, but now he finds himself involved in an investigation to find out who murdered her the day they were to leave and why.
In addition to this new mystery in Frank's life, French portrays his family issues and drama very well. His father is an alcoholic, his mother's manipulative and demanding, but part of him feels torn regarding his relationship with his siblings. He is also trying to balance his job with his relationship with his daughter and her interest in her father's family. French did a good job of balancing Frank's investigation into the crime with his personal relationships in the novel. As an undercover officer, Frank feels like he acts differenly than other police officers because of the way his jobs usually pan out, and this can be seen in the way he occasionally butts heads with the leading officer on the case, or how he gets involved when he shouldn't. The plot is tightly written, and French's writing helps elevate her mysteries above the average thriller even if by the end it is obvious who the killer was.