Friday, September 14, 2012

Duplicity and Guilt: From E. A. Poe to Tana French


My Kindle Fire informs me that I have completed 80% of Tana French’s latest police procedural, Broken Harbor. Because I have not finished reading the novel as I write this, you can safely proceed reading this blog post. I can’t give away the ending because I simply don’t know it--although I’d put money on one particular character if I were a betting woman. I can tell you that this Tana French novel is as compelling as the other three she has written, and I can tell you that I await her fifth novel eagerly.

Conduct an online search, using the name Tana French, and you will find a list of the awards she has received. Her first novel, In the Woods, won four, including an Edgar for Best First Novel. Search for contemporary writers under the genre headings such as Mystery, Thriller, Psychological Chiller, and Police Procedural, and you will find the name, Tana French. Pre-sale orders for her fourth book, released in July 2012, were robust.

One reason for French’s success is her ability to weave an eerie atmosphere within and without. Her conflicted characters, like Poe’s nameless narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” carry a heavy personal burden of divided loyalties and flawed perceptions that push them onward into uncertainty and pull them backward into haunted memories. Torn between passion and reason, her characters dance with madness, and the line that separates those who uphold the law and those who break it is almost invisible.

In Broken Harbor, French builds what, for me, is exquisite and unbearable suspense as Detective Garda Curran develops under the tutelage of Detective Sergeant Kennedy. Not only does each detective have different experiences and temperaments, but each also has a very different mind with regard to evidence, interrogation, and guilt. Neither one is more sympathetic than the other or more sympathetic than the victims or the suspects. All bear scrutiny.

One theme drawn from Broken Harbor, one that I’ve discussed several times for this blog, echoes Sir Walter Scott who said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Jenny Spain, the only survivor of a brutal attack that took the lives of her husband and children defends the primary and usual suspects. The satellites that orbit Jenny Spain’s life do not reveal all that they know immediately; only under pressure do they admit what Kennedy and Curran need to know. Worse, Kennedy and Curran, paired as partners, mentor and mentee, do not reveal themselves to each other, and in some cases, do not reveal all that they know or intuit. Together, these characters weave a tangled web, their deceits compromising the very core of their humanity in pursuit or defense of the truth.

Such complex characters are French’s forte, solidly grounded in works as old as Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and even Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. Victims, police, and witnesses render judgments according to their own pasts, but it is the ricocheting ethos of the central characters that drives the story and compels readers.

Just who is a victim? Who has a comprehensible, simple motive? Who descended into madness that transformed him or her from an upstanding citizen into a ruthless killer? And can that killer live with the consequences of passion, or must the killer, like Poe’s narrator, hear the rhythm and pulsing of his failed reason until he exposes him or herself?

Reading Challenge:

Read any one of Tana French’s police procedurals: In the Woods (2008), The Likeness (2009), Faithful Place (2010) and Broken Harbor (2012).  The Likeness features prominently a female undercover murder detective; the others bring a male to the center of the investigation. In each, characters seen before in and around the Castle (police headquarters) emerge as the protagonist, and this use of minor characters in major roles enhances the connections between her novels and the anticipation of the next one.

 Writing Challenge:

Write a review of the Tana French novel that you read. If you seek a model for such a review, consider the resources below:

·      http://www.npr.org/2012/07/26/156873952/haunting-memories-elaborate-plotting-in-harbor
·      http://www.npr.org/2012/08/02/157118442/a-moody-tale-of-murder-in-a-broken-dublin-suburb
·      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/books/12book.html?pagewanted=all
·      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/08/AR2010080802334.html
·      http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/The_Likeness.html
·      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/17/books/17masl.html
·      http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/In_the_Woods.html
·      http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/27/tana-french-interview

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Back to School Basics, Your and You’re

Detectives Kennedy and Curran visit online chat rooms in their search for a motive and the name of the killer. Pat Spain, Jenny’s husband, plagued by noises in the walls and footsteps above in the attic, seeks help from wild life and animal life discussions. True to our very human tendency to err as well as our tendency to relax standards for texting and chatting, Tana French uses simple errors such as the correct spelling of your and you’re to show how wrong we often are when we write in haste and how relaxed our standards are when we chat electronically. Just as you and I might make a spelling mistake in our haste, so does Pat Spain. He also does not proofread his work; he's in a hurry, and he needs answers now.

Still, when preparing documents for work or school, whether they will appear online as emailed messages or hard-copy reports in the hands of several, practice proofreading, remembering that:

·      Your is a possessive pronoun like my, his, her, our, and their; e. g., Did you leave your coat at the party? (a coat belonging to you, not her or him, but you)
·      You’re is a contraction for the pronoun, you, and linking verb, are; e. g., You’re so cold! Where is your coat?