Home Books The Searcher: by Tana French

The Searcher: by Tana French

Tana French’s novel The Searcher is a recognizable and straightforward exercise in genre, but it is also an exemplar of the crime thriller genre, mainly due to its expert evocation of a specific setting. The book is set in a small, isolated Irish village, somewhere north of Galway and southwest of the ignominious border-that-shall-not-be-named between the Republic of Ireland and Britain. The way The Searcher brings to life both the particularities of Irish rural living and the universalisms of the closed-off country community is what makes the book really sing; it is also crucial to the eventual unfolding of the book’s plot.

The Searcher follows the peregrinations of protagonist Cal Hooper, a blow-in from the US who has come to middle-of-nowhere Ireland as an escape from a life that was just not quite satisfying back in the States. He is retired from the Chicago PD and fleeing a fairly amicable divorce, but still feels having the entire Atlantic Ocean between him and his old life is the only way forward. He was raised in the hills and “hollers” of North Carolina, so the lack of big-city amenities in northwestern Ireland also appeals to him.

In the book’s first act, Cal is committed to renovating his leaky, dilapidated farm cottage and making new friends with near-nightly sojourns to the local pub. But he is being watched by someone. He eventually discovers who the stalking local is: a ragamuffin pre-teen who belongs to the village’s designated whipping-boy family, the sort of notorious household from whom only trouble is expected. But Cal does not want to dismiss the kid, who he discovers is named Trey, out-of-hand. Cal and Trey become friends, as Trey comes over and joins Cal in fixing up his place, with Cal in return making sure Trey has a good meal.

But then Cal discovers that Trey has an ulterior motive: an older brother who simply vanished. Trey wants Cal to investigate the disappearance, which is precisely the sort of thing that Cal did in his old life as a detective in Chicago and also precisely the sort of thing he has no desire to do in his adopted Irish home. Ultimately, of course, Cal cannot resist the siren call that is the missing person’s case and he begins discretely snooping for answers.

It is at this point that French begins to unravel the charm of the rural Irish village to reveal the sinister core underneath it all. Rural communities are insular and often simultaneously gossipy and secretive. In Ireland, villages are faced with an additional challenge: namely, a sharp divide between those who leave and go to Dublin or the UK or abroad (usually to the US or Australia) and those who remain behind. The Irish countryside is full of old bachelor farmers with siblings scattered across three continents. It creates a society full of half-spoken truths, intense loyalty and protective feelings. Cal knows very little about this—he thinks North Carolina and northern Connaught are basically the same—and it comes to blow up his investigation and potentially ruin the otherwise nice life he had built for himself in Ireland. It is this facet of its plot that makes The Searcher stand out in the crowded crime thriller genre.

Summary
The Searcher is a recognizable and straightforward exercise in genre, but it is also an exemplar of the crime thriller genre.
70 %
Irish-set Thriller
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