Faithful Place

A Novel
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From Tana French, "the most interesting, most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years" (The Washington Post), the bestseller called "the most stunning of her books" (The New York Times) and a finalist for the Edgar Award. Don't miss her newest, The Trespasser, now available.

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen-year-old kid with a dream of escaping his family's cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. But on the night they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn't show. Frank took it for granted that she'd dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie's suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank, now a detective in the Dublin Undercover squad, is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he's a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he's willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.


“Tana French’s mysteries are like big old trees: the deeper their roots, the more luxurious the foliage they wave in your face.”
--Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“French does something fresh with every novel, each one as powerful as the last but in a very different manner. Perhaps she has superpowers of her own? Whatever the source of her gift, it’s only growing more miraculous with every book.”
--Laura Miller,
“An expertly rendered, gripping new novel”
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Irish writer Tana French hit the big time with her stunning cop-drama debut, “In the Woods,” and followed it with an equally brilliant book, “The Likeness.” Both demonstrated French’s gift for merging the best traits of the crime genre with the compassionate insights and nimble prose associated with “serious” literature. A third dazzler, “Faithful Place,” puts Detective Frank Mackey, a supporting actor from “The Likeness,” front and center.”
--The Seattle Times
“French’s emotionally searing third novel of the Dublin Murder Squad (after The Likeness) shows the Irish author getting better with each book.”
--Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
“[French] revisits, evocatively and lyrically, themes she's used before: love, loss, memory, murder, and life in modern Ireland. French's writing remains brilliant, and her dialogue is sharp, often lacerating, and sometimes mordantly funny. Faithful Place is her best book yet.”
--Booklist (starred review)
“The charming narrative will leave readers begging for a sequel.”
--Kirkus Reviews
“Powerful...An authentic Irish heartbreaker”
--The Star-Ledger (Newark)



My father once told me that the most important thing every man should know is what he would die for. If you don’t know that, he said, what are you worth? Nothing. You’re not a man at all. I was thirteen and he was three quarters of the way into a bottle of Gordon’s finest, but hey, good talk. As far as I recall, he was willing to die a) for Ireland, b) for his mother, who had been dead for ten years, and c) to get that bitch Maggie Thatcher.

All the same, at any moment of my life since that day, I could have told you straight off the bat exactly what I would die for. At first it was easy: my family, my girl, my home. Later, for a while, things got more complicated. These days they hold steady, and I like that; it feels like something a man can be proud of. I would die for, in no particular order, my city, my job, and my kid.

The kid is well behaved so far, the city is Dublin, and the job is on the Undercover Squad, so it may sound obvious which one I’m most likely to wind up dying for, but it’s been a while since work handed me anything scarier than a paperwork megaturd. The size of this country means a field agent’s shelf life is short; two ops, maybe four, and your risk of being spotted gets too high. I used up my nine lives a long time back. I stay behind the scenes, for now, and run operations of my own.

Here’s the real risk in Undercover, in the field and out: you create illusions for long enough, you start thinking you’re in control. It’s easy to slide into believing you’re the hypnotist here, the mirage master, the smart cookie who knows what’s real and how all the tricks are done. The fact is you’re still just another slack-jawed mark in the audience. No matter how good you are, this world is always going to be better at this game. It’s more cunning than you are, it’s faster and it’s a whole lot more ruthless. All you can do is try to keep up, know your weak spots and never stop expecting the sucker punch.

The second time my life geared up for the sucker punch, it was a Friday afternoon at the beginning of December. I had spent the day doing maintenance work on some of my current mirages—one of my boys, who would not be getting any cookies from Uncle Frank in his Christmas stocking, had got himself into a situation wherein, for complex reasons, he needed an elderly lady whom he could introduce to several low-level drug dealers as his granny—and I was heading over to my ex-wife’s place to pick up my kid for the weekend. Olivia and Holly live in a jaw-droppingly tasteful semi-d on a manicured cul-de-sac in Dalkey. Olivia’s daddy gave it to us for a wedding present. When we moved in, it had a name instead of a number. I got rid of that fast, but still, I should have copped right then that this marriage was never going to work. If my parents had known I was getting married, my ma would have gone deep into hock at the credit union, bought us a lovely floral living-room suite and been outraged if we took the plastic off the cushions.

Olivia kept herself bang in the middle of the doorway, in case I got ideas about coming in. “Holly’s almost ready,” she said.

Olivia, and I say this hand on heart with the proper balance of smugness and regret, is a stunner: tall, with a long elegant face, plenty of soft ashblond hair and the kind of discreet curves you don’t notice at first and then can’t stop noticing. That evening she was smoothed into an expensive black dress and delicate tights and her grandmother’s diamond necklace that only comes out on big occasions, and the Pope himself would have whipped off his skullcap to mop his brow. Me being a less classy guy than the Pope, I wolf whistled. “Big date?”

“We’re going for dinner.”

“Does ‘we’ involve Dermo again?”

Olivia is way too smart to let me yank her chain that easily. “His name’s Dermot, and yes, it does.”

I did impressed. “That’s four weekends running, am I right? Tell me something: is tonight the big night?”

Olivia called up the stairs, “Holly! Your father’s here!” While she had her back turned, I headed on past her into the hall. She was wearing Chanel No. 5, same as she has ever since we met.

Upstairs: “Daddy! I’m coming I’m coming I’m coming, I just have to . . .” and then a long intent stream of chatter, as Holly explained her complicated little head without caring whether anyone could hear her. I yelled, “You take your time, sweetheart!” on my way into the kitchen.

Olivia followed me. “Dermot will be here any minute,” she told me. I wasn’t clear on whether this was a threat or a plea.

I flipped open the fridge and had a look inside. “I don’t like the cut of that fella. He’s got no chin. I never trust a man with no chin.”

“Well, fortunately, your taste in men isn’t relevant here.”

“It is if you’re getting serious enough that he’ll be spending time around Holly. What’s his surname again?”

Once, back when we were heading for the split, Olivia slammed the fridge door on my head. I could tell she was thinking about doing it again. I stayed leaning over, to give her every opportunity, but she kept her cool. “Why do you want to know?”

“I’ll need to run him through the computer.” I pulled out a carton of orange juice and gave it a shake. “What’s this crap? When did you stop buying the good stuff?”

Olivia’s mouth—subtle nude lipstick—was starting to tighten. “You will not run Dermot through any computer, Frank.”

“Got no choice,” I told her cheerfully. “I have to make sure he’s not a kiddie-fiddler, haven’t I?”

“Sweet Lord, Frank! He is not—”

“Maybe not,” I acknowledged. “Probably not. But how can you be sure, Liv? Wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?” I uncapped the juice and took a swig.

“Holly!” Olivia called, louder. “Hurry up!”

“I can’t find my horse!” A bunch of thumps, overhead.

I told Olivia, “They target single mammies with lovely little kids. And it’s amazing how many of them don’t have chins. Have you never noticed that?”

“No, Frank, I haven’t. And I won’t have you using your job to intimidate—”

“Take a good look next time there’s a pedo on the telly. White van and no chin, I guarantee you. What does Dermo drive?”


I had another big gulp of juice, wiped off the spout with my sleeve and stuck the carton back in the fridge. “That tastes like cat’s piss. If I up the child support, will you buy decent juice?”

“If you tripled it,” Olivia said sweetly and coldly, glancing at her watch, “not that you could, it might just about cover one carton a week.” Kitty has claws, if you keep pulling her tail for long enough.

At this point Holly saved both of us from ourselves by shooting out of her room calling, “Daddydaddydaddy!” at the top of her lungs. I made it to the bottom of the stairs in time for her to take a flying leap at me like a little spinning firework, all gold cobweb hair and pink sparkly things, wrapping her legs round my waist and whacking me in the back with her schoolbag and a fuzzy pony called Clara that had seen better days.

“Hello, spider monkey,” I said, kissing the top of her head. She was light as a fairy. “How was your week?”

“Very busy and I’m not a spider monkey,” she told me severely, nose to nose. “What’s a spider monkey?”

Holly is nine and the fine-boned, easy-bruised spit of her mother’s family—us Mackeys are sturdy and thick-skinned and thick-haired, built for hard work in Dublin weather—all except for her eyes. The first time I ever saw her she looked up at me with my own eyes, great wide bright-blue eyes that hit me like a Taser zap, and they still make my heart flip over every time. Olivia can scrape off my surname like an out-of-date address label, load up the fridge with juice I don’t like and invite Dermo the Pedo to fill my side of the bed, but there’s not a thing she can do about those eyes.

I told Holly, “It’s a magic fairy monkey that lives in an enchanted wood.” She gave me a look that was perfectly balanced between Wow and Nice try. “What has you so busy?”

She slid off me and landed on the floor with a thump. “Chloe and Sarah and me are going to have a band. I drew you a picture in school because we made up a dance and can I have white boots? And Sarah wrote a song and . . .” For a second there Olivia and I almost smiled at each other, across her head, before Olivia caught herself and checked her watch again.

In the drive we crossed paths with my friend Dermo, who—as I know for a fact, because I snagged his plate number the first time he and Olivia went out to dinner—is an impeccably law-abiding guy who has never even parked his Audi on a double yellow, and who can’t help looking like he lives life on the verge of a massive belch. “Evening,” he said, giving me an electrocuted nod. I think Dermo may be scared of me. “Holly.”

“What do you call him?” I asked Holly, when I had fastened her into her booster seat and Olivia, perfect as Grace Kelly, was kissing Dermo’s cheek in the doorway.

Holly rearranged Clara’s mane and shrugged. “Mum says to call him Uncle Dermot.”

“And do you?”

“No. Out loud I don’t call him anything. In my head I call him Squidface.” She checked in the rearview mirror, to see if I was going to give out about that. Her chin was all ready to turn stubborn.

I started to laugh. “Beautiful,” I told her. “That’s my girl,” and I did a handbrake turn to make Olivia and Squidface jump.

Since Olivia got sense and kicked me out, I live on the quays, in a massive apartment block built in the nineties by, apparently, David Lynch. The carpets are so deep that I’ve never heard a footstep, but even at four in the morning you can feel the hum of five hundred minds buzzing on every side of you: people dreaming, hoping, worrying, planning, thinking. I grew up in a tenement house, so you would think I’d be good with the factory-farm lifestyle, but this is different. I don’t know these people; I never even see these people. I have no idea how or when they get in and out of the place. For all I know they never leave, just stay barricaded in their apartments, thinking Even in my sleep I’ve got one ear tuned to that buzz, ready to leap out of bed and defend my territory if I need to.

The decor in my personal corner of Twin Peaks is divorcé chic, by which I mean that, four years on, it still looks like the moving van hasn’t arrived yet. The exception is Holly’s room, which is loaded with every fluffy pastel object known to man. The day we went looking for furniture together, I had finally managed to wrestle one weekend a month out of Olivia, and I wanted to buy Holly everything on three floors of the shopping center. A part of me had believed I’d never see her again.

“What are we doing tomorrow?” she wanted to know, as we headed up the padded corridor. She was trailing Clara on the carpet by one leg. Last I’d looked, she would have screamed bloody murder at the thought of that horse touching the floor. Blink and you miss something.

“Remember that kite I got you? Finish all your homework tonight, and if it’s not raining I’ll bring you to the Phoenix Park and teach you to fly it.”

“Can Sarah come?”

“We’ll ring her mum after dinner.” Holly’s mates’ parents love me. Nothing feels more responsible than having a detective take your kid to the park.

“Dinner! Can we get pizza?”

“Sure,” I said. Olivia lives an additive-free, organic, high-fiber life; if I don’t do a little counterbalancing, the kid will grow up twice as healthy as all her mates and feel left out. “Why not?” and then I unlocked the door and got my first hint that Holly and I weren’t getting any pizza tonight. The voice-mail light on my phone was going apeshit. Five missed calls. Work rings me on my mobile, field agents and confidential informants ring me on my other mobile, the lads know they’ll see me in the pub when they see me, and Olivia sends me text messages when she has to. That left family, which meant my kid sister Jackie, seeing as she was the only one I’d talked to in a couple of decades. Five calls probably meant one of our parents was dying.

I told Holly, “Here,” and held out my laptop. “You take that to your room and annoy your mates on IM. I’ll be in to you in a few minutes.”

Holly, who knows well that she isn’t allowed to go online in private till she’s twenty-one, gave me a skeptical look. “If you want a cigarette, Daddy,” she told me, very maturely, “you can just go out on the balcony. I know you smoke.”

I steered her towards her room with a hand on her back. “Oh, yeah? What makes you think that?” At any other time I would have been seriously curious. I’ve never smoked in front of Holly, and Olivia wouldn’t have told her. We made her mind, the two of us; the idea of it containing things we didn’t put there still blows me away.

“I just know,” Holly said, dumping Clara and her bag on her bed and looking lofty. The kid’ll make a detective yet. “And you shouldn’t. Sister Mary Therese says it turns all your insides black.”

“Sister Mary Therese is dead right. Smart woman.” I switched on the laptop and hooked up the broadband line. “There you go. I’ve to make a phone call. Don’t be buying any diamonds on eBay.”

Holly asked, “Are you going to ring your girlfriend?”

She looked tiny and way too wise, standing there in her white padded coat that came halfway down her skinny legs, wide eyes trying not to look scared. “No,” I said. “No, sweetheart. I don’t have a girlfriend.”


“I swear. I’m not planning on getting one anytime soon, either. In a few years maybe you can pick one out for me. How’s that?”

“I want Mum to be your girlfriend.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.” I put my hand on her head for a second; her hair felt like petals. Then I closed her door behind me and went back to the living room to find out who had died.

It was Jackie on the voice mail, all right, and she was going like an express train. Bad sign: Jackie brakes for good news (“You’ll never guess what happened. Go on, have guess”) and floors the pedal for bad. This was Formula 1 stuff . “Ah, Jaysus, Francis, would you ever pick up your bleeding phone, I need to talk to you, I’m not just ringing you for the laugh, do I ever? Now before you go getting a fright, it’s not Mammy, God forbid, she’s grand, a bit shook up but sure aren’t we all, she was having palpitations there at first but she had a sit-down and Carmel gave her a drink of brandy and she’s grand now, aren’t you, Mam? Thank God Carmel was there, she does call round most Fridays after the shopping, she rang me and Kevin to come down. Shay said not to be ringing you, what’s the point, he said, but I told him to feck off for himself, it’s only fair, so if you’re at home would you ever pick up this phone and talk to me? Francis! I swear to God—” The message space ran out with a beep.

Carmel and Kevin and Shay, oh my. It sounded very much like the entire family had descended on my parents’ place. My da; it had to be. “Daddy!” Holly yelled, from her room. “How many cigarettes do you smoke every day?”

The voice-mail lady told me to press buttons; I followed orders. “Who says I smoke?”

“I need to know! Twenty?”

For a start. “Maybe.”

Jackie again: “Bleeding machines, I wasn’t finished! Come here, I should’ve said right away, it’s not Da either, he’s the same as ever, no one’s dead or hurt or nothing, or anyway we’re all grand. Kevin’s a bit upset but I think that’s because he’s worried about how you’ll take it, he’s awful fond of you, you know, he still is. Now it might be nothing, Francis, I don’t want you losing the head, right, it could all be a joke, someone messing, that’s what we thought at first, although pretty shite joke if you ask me, excuse my language—”

“Daddy! How much exercise do you get?”

What the hell? “I’m a secret ballet dancer.”

“Noooo, seriously! How much?”

“Not enough.”

“—and sure, none of us have a clue what to be doing with it an’ anyway, so would you ever ring me as soon as you get this? Please, Francis. I’ll have my mobile in my hand, now.”

Click, beep, voice-mail babe. Looking back, I should have figured it out by that point, or at least I should have got the general idea. “Daddy? How much fruit and vegetables do you eat?”


“You do not!”


The next three messages were more of the same, at half-hour intervals. By the last one, Jackie had reached the point where only small dogs could hear her.


“Give me a sec, sweetie.”

I took my mobile out on the balcony, above the dark river and the greasy orange lights and the running snarl of the traffic jams, and phoned Jackie. She answered on the first ring. “Francis? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’ve been going mental! Where were you?”

She had slowed down to about eighty miles an hour. “Picking up Holly. What the hell, Jackie?”

Background noise. Even after all that time, I knew the quick bite of Shay’s voice straight away. One note of my ma caught me right in the throat.

“Ah, God, Francis . . . Would you sit down for me, now? Or get yourself a glass of brandy, something like that?”

“Jackie, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I swear I’m going to come over there and strangle you.”

“Hang on, hold your horses . . .” A door closing. “Now,” Jackie said, into sudden quiet. “Right. D’you remember I was telling you a while back, some fella’s after buying up the three houses at the top of the Place? To turn into apartments?”


“He’s not doing the apartments after all, now everyone’s after getting all worried about property prices; he’s leaving the houses a while and see what happens. So he got the builders in to take out the fireplaces and the moldings and that, to sell—there’s people pay good money for those yokes, did you know that? mentallers—and they started today, on the one up on the corner. D’you remember, the derelict one?”

“Number Sixteen.”

“That’s the one. They were taking out the fireplaces, and up behind one of them they found a suitcase.”

Dramatic pause. Drugs? Guns? Cash? Jimmy Hoff a? “Fuck’s sake, Jackie. What?”

“It’s Rosie Daly’s, Francis. It’s her case.”

All the layers of traffic noise vanished, snapped right off . That orange glow across the sky turned feral and hungry as forest fire, blinding, out of control.

“No,” I said, “it’s not. I don’t know where the hell you got that, but it’s a load of my arse.”

“Ah, now, Francis—”

Concern and sympathy were pouring off her voice. If she’d been there, I think I would have punched her lights out. “‘Ah, now, Francis,’ nothing. You and Ma have yourselves worked up into some hysterical frenzy over sweet fuck-all, and now you want me to play along—”

“Listen to me, I know you’re—”

“Unless this is all some stunt to get me over there. Is that it, Jackie? Are you aiming for some big family reconciliation? Because I’m warning you now, this isn’t the fucking Hallmark Channel and that kind of game isn’t going to end well.”

“You big gobshite, you,” Jackie snapped. “Get a hold of yourself. What do you think I am? There’s a shirt in that case, a purple paisley yoke, Carmel recognizes it—”

I’d seen it on Rosie a hundred times, knew what the buttons felt like under my fingers. “Yeah, from every girl in this town in the eighties. Carmel’d recognize Elvis walking down Grafton Street for a bit of gossip. I thought you had better sense, but apparently—”

“—and there’s a birth cert wrapped inside it. Rose Bernadette Daly.” Which more or less killed that line of conversation. I found my smokes, leaned my elbows on the railing and took the longest drag of my life.

“Sorry,” Jackie said, softer. “For biting your head off . Francis?”


“Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Listen to me, Jackie. Do the Dalys know?”

“They’re not in. Nora moved out to Blanchardstown, I think it was, a few years back; Mr. Daly and Mrs. Daly go over to her on Friday nights, to see the baba. Mammy thinks she has the number somewhere, but—”

“Have you called the Guards?”

“Only you, sure.”

“Who else knows about this?”

“The builders, only. A couple of Polish young fellas, they are. When they finished up for the day they went across to Number Fifteen, to ask was there anyone they could give the case back to, but Number Fifteen’s students now, so they sent the Polish fellas down to Ma and Da.”

“And Ma hasn’t told the whole road? Are you sure?”

“The Place isn’t the same as you remember it. Half of it’s students and yuppies, these days; we wouldn’t even know their names. The Cullens are still here, and the Nolans and some of the Hearnes, but Mammy didn’t want to say anything to them till she’d told the Dalys. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Good. Where’s the case now?”

“It’s in the front room. Should the builders not have moved it? They had to get on with their work—”

“It’s grand. Don’t touch it any more unless you have to. I’ll be over as fast as I can.”

A second of silence. Then: “Francis. I don’t want to be thinking anything terrible, God bless us, but does this not mean that Rosie . . .”

“We don’t know anything yet,” I said. “Just sit tight, don’t talk to anyone, and wait for me.”

I hung up and took a quick look into the apartment behind me. Holly’s door was still shut. I finished my smoke in one more marathon drag, tossed the butt over the railing, lit another and rang Olivia.

She didn’t even say hello. “No, Frank. Not this time. Not a chance.”

“I don’t have a choice, Liv.”

“You begged for every weekend. Begged. If you didn’t want them—”

“I do want them. This is an emergency.”

“It always is. The squad can survive without you for two days, Frank. No matter what you’d like to think, you’re not indispensable.”

To anyone more than a foot away, her voice would have sounded light and chatty, but she was furious. Tinkling cutlery, arch hoots of laughter; something that sounded like, God help us, a fountain. “It’s not work this time,” I said. “It’s family.”

“It is, of course. Would this have anything to do with the fact that I’m on my fourth date with Dermot?”

“Liv, I would happily do a lot to wreck your fourth date with Dermot, but I’d never give up time with Holly. You know me better than that.”

A short, suspicious pause. “What kind of family emergency?”

“I don’t know yet. Jackie rang me in hysterics, from my parents’ place; I can’t work out the details. I need to get over there fast.”

Another pause. Then Olivia said, on a long tired breath, “Right. We’re in the Coterie. Drop her down.”

The Coterie has a TV-based chef and gets hand-jobbed in a lot of weekend supplements. It badly needs firebombing. “Thanks, Olivia. Seriously I’ll pick her up later tonight, if I can, or tomorrow morning. I’ll ring you.”

“You do that,” Olivia said. “If you can, of course,” and she hung up. I threw my smoke away and went inside to finish pissing off the women in my life.

Holly was sitting cross-legged on her bed, with the computer on her lap and a worried look on her face. “Sweetheart,” I said, “we’ve got a problem.” She pointed at the laptop. “Daddy, look.”

The screen said, in big purple letters surrounded by an awful lot of flashing graphics, you will die at the age of 52. The kid looked really upset. I sat down on the bed behind her and pulled her and the computer onto my lap. “What’s all this?”

“Sarah found this quiz online and I did it for you and it said this. You’re forty-one.”

Oh, Jesus, not now. “Chickadee, it’s the internet. Anyone can put anything on there. That doesn’t make it real.”

“It says! They figured it all out!”

Olivia was going to love me if I gave Holly back in tears. “Let me show you something,” I said. I reached around her, got rid of my death sentence, opened up a Word document and typed in, you are a space alien. You are reading this on the planet bongo. “Now. Is that true?”

Holly managed a watery giggle. “Course not.”

I turned it purple and gave it a fancy font. “How about now?”


“How about if I got the computer to ask you a bunch of questions before it said that? Would it be true then?”

For a second I thought I’d got through, but then those narrow shoulders went rigid. “You said a problem.”

“Yeah. We’re going to have to change our plans just a little bit.”

“I have to go back to Mum’s,” Holly said, to the laptop. “Don’t I?”

“Yep, sweetie. I’m really, really sorry. I’ll come get you the second I can.”

“Does work need you again?”

That again felt worse than anything Olivia could dish out. “No,” I said, leaning sideways so I could see Holly’s face. “It’s nothing to do with work. Work can take a long walk off a short pier, am I right?” That got a faint smile. “You know your auntie Jackie? She’s got a big problem, and she needs me to sort it out for her right now.”

“Can’t I come with you?”

Both Jackie and Olivia have tried hinting, occasionally, that Holly should get to know her dad’s family. Sinister suitcases aside, over my dead body does Holly dip a toe in the bubbling cauldron of crazy that is the Mackeys at their finest. “Not this time. Once I’ve fixed everything, we’ll bring Auntie Jackie for an ice cream somewhere, will we? To cheer us all up?”

“Yeah,” Holly said, on a tired little breath exactly like Olivia’s. “That’d be fun,” and she disentangled herself from my lap and started putting her stuff back into her schoolbag.

In the car Holly kept up a running conversation with Clara, in a subdued little voice too quiet for me to hear. At every red light I looked at her in the rearview mirror and swore to myself that I’d make it up to her: get hold of the Dalys’ phone number, dump the damn suitcase on their doorstep and have Holly back at El Rancho Lyncho by bedtime. I already knew it wasn’t going to work out that way. That road and that suitcase had been waiting for me to come back for a long time. Now that they’d got their hooks in, what they had saved up for me was going to take a lot more than one evening.

The note had the bare minimum of teen-queen melodrama; she was always good that way, was Rosie. I know this is going to be a shock and I’m sorry but please don’t be feeling like I messed you around on purpose, I never wanted to do that. Only I’ve thought about it really hard, this is the only way I’ll ever have a decent chance at the kind of life I want. I just wish I could do it and not hurt you/upset you/disappoint you. It would be great if you could wish me luck in my new life in England!! but if you can’t I understand.

I swear I’ll come back someday. Till then, loads and loads and loads of love,


In between the moment when she left that note on the floor of Number 16, in the room where we had our first kiss, and the moment when she went to heave her suitcase over some wall and get the hell out of Dodge, something had happened.

Q & A

1. Was your early life—God forbid—anything like life in the Mackey household? If it was, how did you survive, and if it wasn’t, how do you know these characters so well?
      God, no, my childhood couldn’t have been less like Frank’s! I had an unfashionably happy childhood. But I’m hugely opposed to the tired idea that you should only ‘write what you know.’ I never write anything that has anything to do with my own life, partly because I’m not all that interesting, but mostly because I believe passionately that it’s my job—maybe the most fundamental part of my job—to have the imagination and empathy to write about characters who aren’t me or anyone I know. If I can’t do that, then what am I doing in this job? 
      With the Mackeys, the crucial thing I wanted to write about was that sense of a family that’s very deeply rooted in a specific place. The Mackeys have lived in Faithful Place for generations; their personalities, their actions, their whole lives are shaped by centuries’ worth of that street’s history. Probably because I moved around so much as a child, I’ve always been fascinated by people who live their lives with roots that deep. Both as a reader and as a writer, I’ve always been more interested in characters who are mysterious to me, characters I have to explore and discover as I go—which is a good thing, because I think a mystery writer, in particular, has no choice but to get used to writing characters who are foreign to her. Let’s face it: just about every mystery book involves at least one character who’s killed someone, and I’m hoping that not every mystery writer grew up surrounded by murderers! So one of the first things you have to do, when you start working on your first mystery book, is ditch the idea of sticking to what you know, and start relying on imagination and empathy instead.
2. You’ve lived lots of places: Italy, Malawi, the United States. Yet your creative imagination has settled in Ireland. Why?
      I don’t think I could write about anywhere else. Dublin is my home, to the extent that international brats can claim anywhere as home. I’ve lived here since I was seventeen; this is the only city where I know all the little details, the short cuts, the slang, the sense of humour (nobody comes up with creative insults quite like the Dubs), the various neighbourhood accents and their social connotations, the best places to get a pint and the worst buses to get after dark. It’s the only place I know well enough to tune into its rhythms and nuances and offer them to readers. I don’t think I could do anywhere else justice. 
      Also, I’ve got this theory that crime is shaped by the society where it happens. Every society has murders, but the tensions and fears and priorities of that particular society determine what kind of murders they are: what sparks them, how they’re carried out, how people respond to them. Dublin is the only place I care about passionately enough to want to explore those underlying layers. 
3. A recurring anxiety in your fiction concerns the intrusion of mass culture into Ireland and the consequent erosion of the country’s traditional character and identity. Do you find that there is still a “real” Ireland, or have Burger King and Britney Spears triumphed at last?
      I think the Irish sense of identity is a strange, complicated thing that’s been shaped, or misshaped, by centuries of poverty and oppression, first under British rule and then under Church rule. We became extreme: there’s a sense, almost at a subconscious level, that either you cling to your origins to the point of resisting all change, or else you need to ditch them altogether, pretend they never existed, in order to get ahead. This was very obvious during the economic boom, when a lot of people—mainly in my generation and the one behind us—seemed to run as far and as fast as they could from anything that was identifiably Irish: accent, slang, fashion sense, cultural references, all shifted into some nonspecific mid-Atlantic bland zone. For a lot of people, anything that marked us as Irish was linked to being poor, isolated, provincial and generally inferior. We were like the poor immigrant kid who strikes it rich and instantly changes his name, gets accent lessons, refuses to eat Old Country food and almost dies of embarrassment if his new cool friends run into his parents. The implication was that the past and the future are somehow mutually exclusive: if you want to lay claim to your future, you have to ditch your past.
      Personally, I think that attitude is slightly insane. It’s very possible to transcend your past without forgetting it—I know plenty of people who’ve done exactly that. But if you try to eliminate it altogether, you’re ripping the foundations out of your future. I’m hoping this might be one of the few silver linings to the terrifying recession we’re in: an end to the hysterical scramble to turn into the Joneses, and a reexamination of what we have that’s worthwhile and unassailably ours. I still believe that there’s plenty there, and that there’s no reason why we can’t find a balance between that and the more global influence.
4. How fully do you plot a mystery before you write it? Are you yourself ever surprised by the direction that one of your stories takes?
      I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Most of the time I don’t know whodunit until I’m well into the book. I’m wildly jealous of writers who have the whole plot outlined before they start the actual writing—at least they know there’s a book in there! I start with a narrator and a basic premise, maybe just an image, and then I take a deep breath, dive into the book and hope I don’t smack my head on the bottom. I started Faithful Place with just two things: Frank, who showed up in The Likeness, and the image of a battered old suitcase that I saw on a pile of rubbish outside a Georgian house that was being gutted. I started wondering where that suitcase had been—whether it had been hidden somewhere in the house, in a wall, in the attic—how long it had been there, what was inside it . . .
      I think the way I work comes from writing very character-driven stuff: I have to start writing and get to know the characters in depth before I get a proper sense of what they would do and why. It does mean I run into surprises along the way, which makes for an awful lot of rewrites, but it’s the only way I know how to work.
5. How has your experience in acting influenced your writing?
      I definitely write like an actor. I can’t imagine writing in the third person; I always stick with first-person, which is a lot like acting—you’re seeing everything through the eyes of your character, filtering all the action through the character’s needs and biases and preconceptions, and aiming to draw your audience in so they can see the story from the same angle. 
      The other thing I picked up from acting: you learn pretty early on, as an actor, that this job isn’t about you and your feelings. It’s about what you offer the audience. You can be feeling all of your character’s emotions, you can be emoting all over the stage and having a wonderful time, but if the audience can’t hear your lines because you’re so choked up with your own tears, then you’re not doing your job. This is an interactive process: the book isn’t just meant to live in my head, it needs to live in the space between me and the reader. It doesn’t matter if I have a great time writing it. Unless it communicates something to the reader, it doesn’t exist.
6. Your plots are often concerned with Achilles heels in the justice system—the perp who gets off on a technicality, for instance, or, in Faithful Place, a murderer who may go free because he has been able to manipulate the emotions of a child. Do you see justice in real life as being similarly precarious?
      I think justice and truth are both a lot more complex than we’d like to think. Wanting things to be black-and-white—or wanting to see things as black-and-white, even when they’re not—is a basic human instinct, but it’s a treacherous one. The idea that there’s a neat division between good guys and bad guys, and the good guys live happily ever after while the bad guys get punished . . . that’s always struck me as a cheap cop-out. The reality is much more interesting: most people are a strange mixture of good and bad, they do things for an almost unfathomably complicated tangle of reasons, and often there’s no possible solution, inside or outside the system, that would deliver real justice. I have huge respect for the detectives who know all that and still put themselves on the line, emotionally and physically, in the struggle to come as close to justice as we’re capable of doing.
      For Frank in Faithful Place, the question of justice becomes inextricably bound up with the question of who he is: the tough kid from Faithful Place who’s used to finding ways around the edges of the law, or the detective who spends his life trying to enforce the law. By the end of the book, he’s forced to choose which kind of justice he’s going to rely on, and which of those men he is at heart.
7. It’s a rare writer who can call forth from readers the depth of emotion that you are able to elicit with your mysteries. How would you like for a reader to feel after reading one of your novels?
      I’ve had e-mails from readers who say that they feel like they know the characters intimately, miss them, even wonder what they’re doing now that the book’s over. Those are the e-mails that make my day. If a reader feels like he or she has been drawn into the book and lived through it side by side with the narrator, then I’ve done my job.
8. The murder victim in your brilliant first novel, In the Woods, was a young girl on the verge of breaking away from a dreary, numbing existence. The same is true of Rosie in Faithful Place. What prompted you to return to this subject?
      I write a lot about liminal zones—turning points, borderlands. Because these are uncharted territory, they’re always dangerous places. When you move out of a safe, standard-issue existence, you challenge the status quo, which can stir up a lot of strong emotions in everyone around you, and you move away from the status quo’s rules and protections, which leaves you very exposed and vulnerable. The victims in both In the Woods and Faithful Place are attacked as they’re in midstream between one life and another; the victim in The Likeness was trying to live her whole life in No Man’s Land. And it’s not just the victims: my narrators spend a lot of time dealing with liminality, too. Frank spends the whole of Faithful Place balancing on a knife-edge between being a Mackey and being a policeman, Cassie spends much of The Likeness on the border between her own identity and Lexie’s, Rob spends all of In the Woods trying to find a way to go back into the netherworld of the woods and come out on the other side. Moving through these zones is the only way to get anywhere, but it comes with risks.

9. Was there any character in
Faithful Place who was especially hard for you to bring to life? If so, what did you draw upon to solve the problem?
      It’s always hard to bring the victim to life. This person is crucial, he or she is the axis around which the whole plot spins, and yet she’s usually dead before the book even begins. My only option is to show her reflected through the other characters—by showing their memories of the victim, their reactions to her death, how her life and death changed the lives of people around her. It gets complicated, but it needs doing—partly to make it clear how high the stakes are, and partly because I feel like I have a responsibility to bring out the idea that murder victims aren’t just plot devices, they’re as real and vivid as every other character.
10. What do you most struggle against when you are writing?
      The temptation to goof off. Writing is a very solitary thing, and I’m not a solitary person, so I’m constantly tempted to spend the day phoning friends till I find someone who can come out and play. Back in college, I had a reputation for only going into the library to get other people out for coffee; some things never change . . . These days, though, at least I fight the temptation.
11. Your debut novel brought you more success and acclaim than most first-time authors dare wish for. Have fame and fortune changed the way you write?
      On a practical level, absolutely: now I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time. It’s much easier to write a book when you’re not trying to juggle a day job, as well as family and friends and all the other facets of life. That was always my definition of success in the arts, both when I was acting and then when I started writing: the chance to get up every morning and spend the day doing something I love. I’m still gobsmacked by my luck.
      In terms of what I write, though, nothing’s changed. It’s impossible to write based on “what your readers want”, for example, because there’s no such entity as “readers”—there are thousands of very different people, each with his or her own tastes and preferences, and if I try to write for all of them I’ll end up with word salad. All I can do is the same thing I did when I was writing In the Woods: do my absolute utmost to offer readers the best book I’m capable of writing, and hope it works for at least some of them.
12. Most authors use their last chapters to tie up their narratives in neat little packages. You, on the other hand, are pointedly resistant to what Frank Mackey might contemptuously call “closure.” Why?
      It’s not really deliberate resistance; the books just always come out that way! I think it’s just that, if characterisation is one of your top priorities—and it’s one of mine—it’s very hard to tie up the stories in tidy little bows, because real people don’t work that way. The only way to create that kind of ending would be to shoehorn the story and the characters into it by force, whether they fit there naturally or not. I’d rather go with an ending that may be less cut and dried, and may not stick to the genre conventions, but that maintains the book’s integrity.
      Also, I think a less tidy ending leaves more room for the characters to go on existing in the reader’s imagination. If you tie up the strands too neatly, there’s an element of “And they lived happily ever after, the end”. Characters who are still struggling, still moving forward, leave room for the reader’s imagination.
      When you get down to it, I guess I’m just more interested in messy endings. I’m the same when I’m reading: I love books that leave me wondering. 
13. Faithful Place ends with Frank offering his hope that we will “all find our way back home.” However, much of the novel seems intent on revealing that home is hell. What do you think it is that calls us back to a place that, for many of us, has been so emotionally destructive?
      I don’t think it’s ever as simple as “home is hell”—or, for that matter, “home is heaven.” Home is, for just about everyone, an incredibly complex and highly charged thing. And no matter how far we run, there’s no escaping it; it’s made us what we are, in one way or another—someone from an abusive home can turn abusive or can grow up into the gentlest person on earth, for example, but either choice is shaped by that home. Its marks are stamped on our bones. 
      For Frank, home may have been hell in some ways, but it’s also the place where he was happiest, back when he and Rosie were in love and planning their escape; it’s the only place where people know the boy he used to be before the night that changed everything; and it’s the place that holds the answers to the biggest question of his life. All of those are powerful things, and an unanswered question is one of the strongest pulls in the world. It’s why we read mystery books, and it’s why Frank—like a lot of other people from horribly damaged backgrounds—can’t stay away from home.
14. Your novels have won critical acclaim, a broad public following, and a well-deserved sackful of awards. What would you still like to accomplish as a writer?
      I don’t have a long-term plan. Actually, I still find it hard to think ahead even as far as the end of the book I’m working on—the idea of writing a whole book seems so ridiculously huge that I just focus on the next little section, or I’ll freak myself out. At the moment, I’m working on the fourth book (Scorcher Kennedy, who shows up in Faithful Place, is the narrator this time) and my only goal as a writer is to get this one right!
      On a broader scale, though . . . I hope someday soon we’ll get to the point where “mystery” and “literature” are no longer seen as mutually exclusive. They never were, obviously—there have always been crime novels that are every bit as beautifully written and as thematically complex as the finest literary fiction, and there have always been literary novels shaped around a crime framework. But there are still a few people (apparently people who’ve never read, for example, the courtroom drama To Kill a Mockingbird) who have real difficulty with the idea of things not fitting neatly under one label, so they still think of genre fiction and literature as utterly separate, unconnected and unconnectable. More and more crime writers are rebelling against that, and I’d love to be a small part of the force that finally crumbles that ridiculous imaginary barrier.

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