An American cop retires at the early age of forty eight and buys a ramshackle house in Ireland with the aim of doing up and recovering his lost peace of mind. His marriage has collapsed apparently because his wife no longer wants to be the wife of a cop (after more than twenty happy years) and because of an incident where the pursuit of a black suspect, who wasn’t hurt in any way, sickened him against his job. This is Chicago, where the death rate is high and cops have thick skins. He also has a moody daughter, although it’s never explained why.
So far so Quiet Man. If only.
A sulky thirteen year old kid starts hanging round his house and, for some reason, the cop entices the kid onto his lawn and starts teaching him woodwork on an old desk. He also teaches the kid to kill rabbits. After some time, the kid reveals that his older brother is missing and he wants the cop to find him so, after an initial refusal, the cop agrees, mainly because the kid throws eggs at his house.
We are now halfway through this long book (over 400 pages) and we’re still waiting for the thriller we were promised. There are lots of descriptions of the Irish countryside, how to renovate an old desk, debating over whether to adopt a pub and an abundance of whimsy and Oirishisms from his neighbour and from the local matchmaking shopkeeper.
After a lot more of nothing much happening, the cop finds out that the kid is, in fact, a girl so he tells her he can’t go on with the ‘investigation’ and that she can’t come back to work on the desk any more.
Until she turns up at his door one night, having been brutally beaten.
SPOILER STARTS HERE.
It transpires that her feckless mother – abandoned by her husband, six kids – did it. Not because she meant the girl any harm but because the people responsible for the brother’s disappearance wanted the ‘investigation’ to stop. Instead of warning off the cop, they told the mother to beat the girl to a pulp or they would. So she did.
No. Just no.
This downtrodden woman, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, half kills her own child on the say so of the local bullies and doesn’t even come looking for her when she stays at the cop’s house. Not only that, but the cop feels sympathetic towards the mother.
The end, when it comes, is unrealistic, a damp squib that, quite frankly left me incredulous.
In departing from her usual Dublin-based Murder Squad, I’m afraid Ms French has lost the plot, both figuratively and literally.