Moral dilemmas, Irish culture propel Tana French’s latest – The Virginian-Pilot


It’s impossible not to think of John Ford’s classic 1950s western – “The Searchers” – when reading Tana French’s new novel, her eighth. In many ways, his “The Searcher” echoes Ford’s tale of a moral man faced with an immoral dilemma. Both the film and the novel are stories of rescue and reconciliation. Both show us men struggling to understand a society they don’t fully understand. In both stories, we even have a hero carrying a Henry lever-action rifle. And in every story, compassion trumps guns.

French’s novel is set in a village in the west of Ireland – Ardnakelty – where the protagonist, Cal Hooper, has escaped the aftermath of a painful divorce and retired from his harrowing job as a crime detective. Chicago police. He comes to Ireland to get away from the criminals of the streets, to bask in peace and serenity, to appreciate the beauty of the landscape and the simplicity of the people of the countryside. What he discovers is what French often shows in his books – that Ireland has a quiet surface but there is violence, oppression and cruelty underneath. His Ireland has less in common with John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” than with the moral crux of John Huston’s rendition of Joyce’s “The Dead.”

Most readers know French for its deft mysteries, including six in the Dublin Murder Squad series. “The Searcher,” like his 2018 “The Witch Elm,” strays from the police procedural genre. French is in a class of its own, even with its series of killer squads. She writes literary novels brimming with psychological undertones and cultural undertones. His books generally offer more subtle detail about the idiosyncrasies of Irish life than about solving murders, and that’s what makes his detective stories sui generis.

“The Searcher” opens with Cal renovating an old farmhouse and learning to love all things Irish countryside. He’s even getting used to the rain – “After decades of classifying the weather into broad categories of nuisance value – wet, freezing, stuffy, OK – Cal likes to notice the subtle gradations here. He feels that at this point, he could make distinctions between five or six different types of rain. The novel offers a guided tour of the Irish landscape – the varieties of moisture, the bogs, the gorses, the stone walls. Along the way, French traces a plot which, while it doesn’t offer too many surprises, does offer some twists and a satisfying, logical ending.

Cal is forced to help his 13-year-old neighbor, Trey, find his 19-year-old brother Brendan, and this selfless act leads Cal to the possibility of redemption with his adult daughter in the United States. A tough, independent neighbor, Lena, offers Cal help and, ultimately, another form of salvation. French loves doubles and look-alikes, and “The Searcher” has its share. Cal leaves a family in the United States and finds his mirror image in Ireland. He leaves Chicago’s deep-rooted crime behind to find his twin in rural Ireland.

In many ways “The Searcher” is less complicated than the French Dublin Murder Squad novels, but because it’s straightforward in its affectionate descriptions of the Irish countryside and unflinching in its depiction of Irish culture, it’s perhaps one of his most satisfying books for Date. It’s hard not to like the honorable Cal Hooper or sympathize with the unconventional Trey. And, while you can guess right off the bat where this book is heading, it’s still an exciting and rewarding journey.

Michael Patrick Pearson is a retired writer and professor of creative writing at ODU.



Viking. 451 pages. $27.


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