Strong POV characters dominate Tana French’s novels. Each of her people have definite ideas about life, love, work, and how things should be done. This allows each novel to be its own complete thing.
And there’s a really cool thing French does that makes these characters even more interesting — and that’s making her characters have opinions (strong, almost unbendable opinions) about the other recurring characters. The result is a very interesting conglomeration of people who you, the reader, know intimately, but leaves you suspecting that you can never really know anyone.
To illustrate this points, I’m going to track the game of Character Point of View Tag that French plays with her characters.
Beginning with In the Woods, the first book in the series.
The POV Character/”It”: Rob Ryan, troubled survivor of an unknown trauma. He tells the story of his past and the present day murder, which are somehow connected. He’s presented as a somewhat sarcastic, youngish member of the Murder Squad. A guy really too smart for his own good:
“I have a pretty knack for imagery, especially the cheap, facile kind. Don’t let me fool you into seeing us as a bunch of parfit gentil knights galloping off in doublets after Lady Truth on her white plafry.”
The “tag” goes to Cassie Maddox, Ryan’s partner in In the Woods, who is described by Ryan: “She was wearing combat trousers and a wine-colored woollen sweater with sleeves that came down past her wrists, and clunky runners, and I put this down as affectation: Look, I’m too cool for your conventions. The spark of animosity this ignited increased my attraction to her. There is a side of me that is most intensely attracted to women who annoy me.”
And Maddox becomes the narrator for The Likeness, book number two:
“It”: Cassie Maddox. How she describes herself and while she escapes her day-to-day with target practice: “After the first few shots a fuse would blow in the back of my brain and the rest of the world vanished somewhere faint and far away, my hands turned rock-steady on the gun and it was just me and the paper target, the hard familiar smell of powder in the air and my back braced solidly against the recoil. I came out calm and numb as if I’d been Valiumed. By the time the effect wore off, I had made it through another day at work and I could go whack my head off sharp corners in the comfort of my own home.”
The “tag”: Frank Mackey, head of the Undercover Squad. How Cassie describes him: “He was a legend: Frank Mackey, still in his thirties and already running undercover operations; the best Undercover agent Ireland’s ever had, people said, reckless and fearless, a tightrope artist with no net, ever.”
Frank Mackey becomes narrator for Faithful Place:
“It”: Mackey’s attitude about his role in Undercover is a little different than Cassie’s: “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 know what’s real and how all the tricks are done. The fact is you’re still just another slack-jawed mark in the audience.”
The “tag”: And Mackey has definite opinions about “Scorcher” Kennedy — “Scorcher is close on six foot, an inch or so taller than me, but he holds himself like a little guy: chest out, shoulders back, neck very straight. He has darkish hair, a narrow build, a serious set of jaw muscles and a knack for attracting the kind of women who want to be status symbols when they grow up and don’t have the legs to bag a rugby player.”
But, before we move on to Scorcher, Frank Mackey is a very fast “It” — he also tags off another later narrator, Stephen Moran: “Stephen Moran, twenty-six years old, home address in the North Wall, good Leaving Cert results, straight from school into Templemore, string of glowing evaluations, out of uniform just three months. The photo showed a skinny kid with scruffy red hair and alert gray eyes. A working-class Dublin boy, smart and determined and on the fast track, and — thank heaven for little newbies — way too green and too eager to question anything a squad detective might happen to tell him”
Scorcher Kennedy, narrates Broken Harbor:
“It”: How he describes himself: “Let’s get one thing straight: I was the perfect man for this case. You’d be amazed how many of lads would have run a mile, given the choice — and I had a choice, at least at the start. A couple of them said it to my face: Sooner you than me, man. It didn’t bother me, not for a second. All I felt was sorry for them.”
Stephen Moran, narrates The Secret Place:
“It”: How he describes himself: Cold Cases is good. Bery bleeding good for a guy like me: working class Dub, first in my family to go for a Leaving Cert instead of an apprenticeship. I was out of uniform by twenty-six, out of the General Detective Unit and into Vice by twenty-eight — Holly’s da put in a word for me there. Into Cold Cases the week I turned thirty, hoping there was no word put in, scared there was. I’m thirty-two now. Time to keep moving up.
Cold Cases is good. Murder is better.”
And what’s even better is that you can reverse the tag game and hear what each of the narrators thinks about a previous narrator or two. Plus other side characters that haven’t taken center stage yet. The Easter eggs are fun to find.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.