This is my fourth French novel, the third in the series but the fourth one I’ve read. And yup, it totally confirmed that I hate reading things out of order. Even in a series like this, where the books aren’t always directly connected, it can screw things up. Faithful Place can definitely be read as a stand alone, more than any of the other novels, but there were things in The Secret Place that relate back to this book. That means I kind of knew what I was looking for, just little things, but enough that it changed the way I read Faithful Place. I was looking for how certain characters were involved in the outcome, because I knew they would be. But don’t worry, knowing this information will not change the way you read The Secret Place. You can read this review and it won’t impact that book at all. Of course, if you read this review and you haven’t read Faithful Place yet, well, that’s your decision, not mine.
FP took me a long time to read, like weeks, maybe longer. It’s the shortest of French’s books, but took me several times longer to read than any of the others. It’s not because it’s a bad book. It’s not that at all. It’s a good read. I simply wasn’t in a reading mood for a while, and, like French’s other books, it’s not a fast read. It’s slowly paced and digs into human darkness. These are books that get to the heart of what make us who we are. And those moments usually aren’t big explosions. They are little moments that slowly influence everything we do. The phrase that comes to mind – wherever you go, there you are. If the person you’re trying to run from is you, you’ll never get away.
Faithful Place brings back Frank Mackey – who we met in The Likeness – and begins with him talking about defining moments in life. Being able to recognize them when they happen. For him, it was the disappearance of his teenage girlfriend. This is the exact opposite of what I just said, right? One defining moment instead of a lifetime of little ones? That’s what French wants us to begin with, but we spend the rest of the novel discovering that Mackey is way more than just that one moment. But that’s what he believes. It’s human nature. We desperately want to believe that we can look back and distinctly see what made us who we are – especially our insecurities and fears – but it’s all the tiny moments that combine to become the core of who we are.
For Frank, his moments are all about family. First his parents and siblings, and now, his ex-wife and daughter. Every one of these people has influenced the choices he’s made. I’m not discounting Rosie’s disappearance as a major influence in his life or in the novel. But it wasn’t her disappearance as much as her influence when she was around. Finding Rosie’s body is the action that triggers everything in the story. It’s the mystery. And like other Tana French novels, the mystery is the smallest part of the story. It’s the background that allows the plot to move forward. This book is actually the least crimey of all her crime dramas. We get Rosie’s body and Kevin’s murder right up front and then we just get Frank trying to get through it. This is the most character driven story of French’s novels. It’s all about Frank. It’s not him wallowing in depression or desperate to figure out what happened. It’s just him trying to get it all together. It didn’t even really feel like there were that many distractions in this book. No super convincing red herrings. No unexpected plot twists. We know from the beginning that both of these crime begin and end in Faithful Place. Now we just need to know how they’re connected.
On the night Rosie disappeared, Frank walked away from his family and now it’s been more than twenty years since he set foot on that street. He has no intentions of going back. Ever. He’s kept in contact with his youngest sister, Jackie, with the understanding that she will keep their lives separate. But now Rosie’s disappearance has come up again and he has to go home and face what he left behind. Face all the things that made him leave. That made him the man he is now. An abusive, alcoholic father. An overbearing mother. Emotionally stunted siblings. Loyalty to family overshadowing everything, even pesky legalities. Getting out is the only thing he wants. He has two choices. The first, and we don’t learn about this until almost the end of the novel, was planning his father’s murder with his brother. Together, they were going to kill him and make it look like an accident, because they couldn’t live with his drinking and violence anymore. This was a real option for them. Going to the cops would never have been an option. It’s the only thing the two brothers ever did together. But then Rosie suggests another option – leaving together. Running off to England to start a life together away from both of their overbearing families. And that’s all Frank needs to hear. He just needs an out and this is the better option. One that will get him away from this life. And it’s that tiny decision. Not the planning of the murder but the choice not to do it, that sets everything in motion. The little moments can mean everything. Frank doesn’t think of that moment as anything because it’s so overshadowed by Rosie’s disappearance. He doesn’t even remember until Shay reminds him.
For the two brothers, the end goal is the same – getting out from the burden of their familes. For Frank, that means getting away from them and not having everything he does coloured by who his father is. For Shay, it’s about keeping their father away from the rest of the family, and he feels like he’s done his time. It’s someone else’s turn. Rosie’s suggestion to leave if the pivot point for everyone involved. Not her disappearance but her off the cuff suggestion that there’s another option. It leads to two deaths. It makes Frank leave the place. It makes Shay a murderer. It makes Holly a witness.
Frank doesn’t even know Rosie is dead when he decides to leave. He just thinks she’s gone without him. And going back to the torture without her, or with the knowledge that she’d rejected him, would have been exponentially worse than it was before. So off he went and became the last thing anyone from Faithful Place would ever become – the most shameful thing – a cop. This distanced him from his family even more than leaving did. But he doesn’t care, because making this decision created his new family – marrying Olivia and having Holly. He’s moved up the social and financial ladder. He’s going places. And those places include divorce. Another thing his family would not abide by, especially his good Irish mother who’s spent her entire adult life under the thumb of her abusive husband. You don’t leave. Ever.
It’s no surprise that Frank doesn’t want his new family to have anything to do with his old family. And as far as he knows, that’s exactly what’s been happening. But then Rosie’s body is found and he’s forced to confront how much she’s still influencing his life. These feelings are exacerbated by the death of his youngest brother in the same house where Rosie disappeared and was finally found. His life has come full circle, and when he has to explain why he’s upset, he discovers that not only does his daughter know about his family, she’s been visiting them regularly without his knowledge. She loves her Uncle Kevin.
So, beyond the fact that his sister and ex-wife have been lying to him, they’ve also convinced his daughter to lie to him. Under the guise that sometimes secrets are okay. And this gets back to how our lives are influenced by every aspect, even when we don’t think it is. Frank’s desperation to remove himself from his family led to his daughter’s involvement with them. His desperation becomes hers. He’s taught Holly to be strong and she’s morphed that into protecting her family. She’s taken on characteristics that embody not only her father’s beliefs but those of Faithful Place – family first. You do anything to protect your family. For Frank that means protecting Holly. For Olivia that means not denying Holly. For Shay it meant giving up everything he wanted in order to take care of his mother and siblings. And for the people of Faithful Place it means never turning on your family.
And this is Frank’s final and greatest betrayal – he has Shay arrested for the murders of Rosie and Kevin. For acts committed out of desperation. The people of the Place would rather live with a murderer in their midst than turn in one of their own. But that’s not who Frank is anymore, and that’s not who he wants Holly to be. He goes against everything that shaped him and makes his own decisions. He uses all those moments and decides what’s right for him. He’s been a man for a long time, but this is one of his defining adult moments. His move beyond Rosie. Beyond Faithful Place. So yeah, there’s a mystery in the novel, but this is its core – facing the hard truths about our past and using them to really figure out who we are.