Frank Mackey and Rosie Daly decide to run away from their poor upbringing and disapproving parents to begin a new life in London, England, pursuing careers in the music industry. Frank waits for Rosie at the appointed time out on Faithful Place, but she doesn’t show, and when he finds a Dear John letter seemingly ending their relationship, he decides to leave home anyway and not once does he look back. Twenty-two years have passed when Frank receives a frantic call from his sister Jackie- a suitcase has been found stuffed in a fireplace in one of the old houses on Faithful Place…and it’s Rosie’s.
I have deeply mixed feelings on how I feel about Faithful Place, and I think a lot of what I think has to do with what type of storytelling I enjoy and characters that interest me. This novel is masterfully crafted and French’s writing is just as finely honed as in The Likeness, if not moreso. I just wasn’t very interested in Frank and his goings on for more than half the novel, and I didn’t enjoy Faithful Place nearly as much as I enjoyed French’s other two novels. Something was missing for me, and though I’ll try to explain, I’m not even sure I know exactly what was lacking.
Faithful Place follows a minor character in French’s last novel, The Likeness. I liked Frank okay in The Likness as the undercover leader who is a little mysterious, and one to play fast and loose with not only the rules, but also the undercovers for whom he is responsible. You know that he may not be a particularly nice guy, and you definitely suspect some sort of troubled past. My main problem from the start was not really liking Frank, nor wanting to know that much about him.
The first 150 pages or so takes us into his world and establishes the mystery from his past, Frank as a family man through his ex-wife and child, and what characterizes his relationship with his family, from whom he been estranged for twenty-two years. The reader doesn’t really get to see him in his job of managing undercovers and running operations, so much as we get to see him make decisions on how to get answers from people in the old neighborhood whom he used to know, while he investigates the suitcase and considers new possibilites of what really happened to Rosie all those years ago. He has barriers now that didn’t exist before which have a lot to do with his chosen career as a police officer.
This novel is also dialogue driven. I remember both In the Woods and The Likeness as being more balanced between dialogue and narrative. Even though there is a lot of the regional flavor in the accents of the well-to-do vs. poor Dubliners, and an examination of class tensions and differences (a theme appearing in all of French’s novels), I am not a huge fan of pages of conversation. It took me quite a while to get into this book, and even when halfway through, I had a lot of reservations about whether I would ultimately enjoy it. After adjusting to the style, I was eventually hooked into the mystery, and very curious to see how the unfolding and the solving of the crime would occur.
As with her other novels, and even though it took a while for it to kick in, French constructs a taut and suspenseful thriller. I came to appreciate Frank Mackey’s complexities of character and his story even though he wasn’t someone whom I originally wanted to read about. While the novel dipped into both the past and the present, I was much more interested in the present and the relationships that Frank had with his ex-wife and daughter. I really wanted to love this book, and I think I managed to get through the first half because of how much I wanted to love it. I had been sorely tempted several times to put it aside. By the end, Faithful Place had morphed into a satisfying read even though it required a lot for me in terms of initial investment. It didn’t engage me the way French novels have in the past. French continues to be an author to whose work I will look forward, but I think Faithful Place will probably be most enjoyed by fans of Frank Mackey.