by Kristen B.
Tana French’s The Searcher offers homage to the American Western, from its namesake The Searchers to John Wayne’s True Grit. In this slightly updated version, Cal Hooper retires from the Chicago PD to a small town in the west of Ireland. He’s an outsider, looking to start a new life after leaving his job and getting divorced. He’s focused on making the house he bought livable before winter arrives.
Cal’s cop senses come to high alert unexpectedly. He eventually figures out that a local teenager has been spying. Trey Reddy comes from a family generally unapproved of in Ardnakelty and is desperately looking for a missing big brother. The two form an uneasy relationship as Cal agrees to do a little sleuthing about Brendan’s disappearance and Trey helps with chores around the house, refinishing an old desk and painting the walls. At heart, Cal is a doer and fixer – hence the extensive retirement project. It’s easier to put his professional skills to use helping with Trey’s cause than to deal with the emotional fallout of the past and present. Cal even has a theory about how all most young men need is the equivalent of a horse, a gun, and a homestead.
A slow burn mystery then unspools around the whereabouts of Brendan Reddy, involving local lads, drug dealers from Dublin, and whatever is terrorizing the local sheep. Cal wrestles with taciturn country folk plus his continued confusion over how and why his marriage ended. The author does a marvelous job of winding the past and the present together as Cal tries to make sense of it all. As I attempted to put the pieces of the puzzle together, it resolved into the idea of a small town trying to keep on keeping on, without examining any preconceived notions too closely. And, perhaps, not being quite as friendly to newcomers as it originally seemed. The scene at the local pub involving shots of poteen that literally make Cal go a little cross-eyed might be one of my favorites. The gift of gab can disguise as much as it reveals. A little humor can serve to distract and deceive equally so. The Irish are masters at it.
Ireland itself serves almost as another character, with the townsfolk, the shops, the sheep, and the countryside itself. French’s descriptions of mists and bogs and biting winds are simply lyrical. They paint such vivid pictures that I could imagine the landscapes almost better than I could the characters. This book is just begging to be made into a movie with clear cut characters, a plot that wraps you up in its mysteries, and gorgeous scenery. I’d watch it (although I usually like the book better).