Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A cop in search of a partner

In her Dublin Murder squad series, Tana French has featured a new protagonist in each book, taken, cleverly, from the many minor characters in earlier books. This time around, for The Secret Place, she's chosen Stephen Moran, whom we met back in Faithful Place when he was a beat cop. He's since worked his way up to Cold Cases--in part because of the scratch of the protagonist of that earlier novel, a well-placed cop who was grateful for his help. This book opens with Moran seeing his chance at latching onto the murder squad, as a case drops into his lap.

As with all of French's novels, the prose and sensibility in this book are distinctive: you always know when you're reading a Tana French novel. While the plots can sometimes let you down--and this, in its relatively limited complexity, isn't one of her best--her broader interests in contemporary Irish society, and, in particular, in the deleterious effects of the rapidly receding boom, rendered in richly detailed prose, make her books something I look forward to every time. Hell, they'd almost be worth it for the Irish slang alone. I'd happily read about things being "banjaxed" in many more novels.

What brings me here tonight, however, isn't the book itself--who hasn't covered this novel already? It's a single passage of reflective wistfulness early on:
Your dream partner grows in the back of your mind, secret, like your dream girl. Mine grew up with violin lessons, floor-to-high-ceiling books, red setters, a confidence he took for granted and a dry sense of humor no one but me would get.
It's not the perfect fit, but it does sound as if in some ways he may be pining for our old friend Saul Panzer. Here's Archie Goodwin's description of Saul's apartment, from "Fourth of July":
Saul Panzer, below average in size but miles above it in savvy, lived alone on the top floor--living room, bedroom, kitchenette, and bath--of a remodeled house on Thirty-eighth Street between Lexington and Third. The living room was big, lighted with two floor lamps and two table lamps, even at seven o'clock of a July evening, because the blinds were drawn. One wall had windows, another was solid with books, and the other two had pictures and shelves that were cluttered with everything from chunks of minerals to walrus tusks. In the far corner was a grand piano.
What other detective is more casually, unostentatiously cultured as Saul Panzer? Alas, Saul's neither Irish nor contemporary--nor, let's be clear, likely to be amenable to working with an organization like the Dublin Police Department. It would pay poorly, work inefficiently, and tolerate incompetence and corruption on a scale no operative whose favored employer is Nero Wolfe would ever tolerate. The dream partner remains but a dream. 'Tis a fallen world we live in, after all.

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