When I occasionally read crime fiction I feel as if I’m watching television. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In recent years television has improved immensely, especially in the crime department, with the likes of Line of Duty, The Wire, The Fall and Luther, to name a few. But where crime fiction and television fall short are in being plot-driven. With fiction, I invest my time and soul into the activity of reading and I expect at the least a story which is character-driven – for me, a mark of good writing. Of course, some of the best television crime, like those already mentioned, have strong characters, whose lives and character journeys develop as subplots to the main crime plots.
I’ve recently read Tana French’s The Trespasser, a murder story set in Dublin. While it’s a plot-driven page turner, it’s equally about Detective Antoinette Conway. As narrator, Conway is opinionated and fierce, encapsulated in an entertaining Irish idiom. As a detective, she can be sarcastic, brisk and aggressive, especially with her co-workers. She knows that she ‘lacks charm’ but believes it’s her best defence against the squad that wants to be rid of her. With the murder story taking its twists and turns, this character makes her own journey of self-awareness and identity. And like Line of Duty, the story thrives on long, but gripping, interrogation scenes that explore the psychology of the interviewers as much as those of the interviewees.
I do wonder if The Trespasser didn’t have detectives and a dead body, it may have been shortlisted for awards in 2016, alongside Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Rose Tremaine’s The Gustav Sonata.