I was fully expecting not to be enamored of this book. Even though I loved French’s other two books, I knew that the main protagonist in this story is a character I hadn’t especially been taken with in his brief appearances in the first two books. So I put off reading this one, and then was floored to discover almost from the outset that I totally loved it! I even dithered around at the end, so I wouldn’t finish it too fast!
Francis (“Frank”) Mackey is a 41-year old divorced undercover detective in Dublin with partial custody he shares with his ex-wife Olivia of precocious nine-year-old Holly. Twenty-two years before, at age 19, he was all set to run off to England with the love of his life, the beautiful Rosie Daly, but Rosie didn’t show up. Frank never really got over it, and he never went back home.
Now his sister Jackie has called him and told him that some renovators of an abandoned tenement on his old street found Rosy’s suitcase, complete with the ferry tickets to England and her birth certificate. Frank cannot avoid making that painful trip back to his childhood home and back to the past in order to find out what happened.
Frank’s not much welcome at first; to the crowded and hard-up tenants of his street – Faithful Place, cops are anathema. And some murders that are discovered after Frank reappears put him under suspicion as well. But if Frank is ever to let go of Rosie in his mind and his heart, he has to know what transpired twenty-two years before. As Frank knew, and even his ex-wife knew, “all the time I was married to Olivia and pretending to belong in Dalkey, I was waiting for Rosie Daly to walk through every door.”
Discussion: The characters of this book are superbly rendered, and in such thick and colorful Dublin dialect you may need an online dictionary of Irish slang to find out what everyone is saying.
The range and depth of the portrayals are remarkable. There are enough simmering passions in this story to set off a volcano, and the raw sorrow that sits like open sores on the characters don’t heal in your own heart once you’ve closed the book. I’ve been talking to my husband about Frank and his brothers like I’ve known them all my life, and I feel that I have!
Frank loved Rosy something fierce, and allows he would have died for her, “back in the day.” He admits, “I had spent my whole adult life growing around a scar shaped like Rosie Daly’s absence.”
Much of the story is about the crazy stew in Frank’s life of poverty and a dysfunctional family and a lack of hope and Rosie: Rosie with her bright copper hair and dazzling smile erased all the ugly parts of Frank’s life. She provided the drop of magic “that stopped you being just another futureless dole bunny moping in his bedsit.” But the magic came to an abrupt end on that night back in December, 1985.
To some extent the role that Rosie played in Frank’s life is now filled by his daughter Holly. She brings him serenity and love and worry and a heart-rending concern over child-rearing that is touching and inspiring. And Frank would die for Holly now, just as he would have died for Rosie, back when she was the one who took his breath away.
The repercussions of the biting, acrid family dynamics of the families on Faithful Place are shown by the depiction of the pain-filled lives of those who got caught in its lethal embrace. I loved that French really made me see all sides of what happened to the people there, including the murderer, so that I actually felt sorry for the murderer even as I felt devastated by the murders. Can there be healing or forgiveness for any of these people? The book ends on a note of hope for some, but not for all. It is truly a stunning story. And if you really want to know how boundless is the grief of what happened, go back and read the prologue after you have finished the last chapter; the knowledge you have gained makes some of those details back in the beginning pierce you like fresh wounds to an already tattered soul.
Note: I gave this to Jim to read as part of my sneaky campaign to convince him that we need to take a trip to Ireland, and he loved this book as well! My next purchase was Rick Steve’s guide to Ireland….
Published by Viking, 2010