Tana French is an American-Irish author who really knows and understands her subject matter well, along with the conventions of the genre that she’s working within. This has made for an impressive and highly compelling literary body of work, marking her out as exemplary within the contemporary thriller genre. It’s her gritty sense of realism, coupled with heart and her intriguing premises that truly sets her work apart, as her ability for weaving complex narratives with the slightest of ease is extraordinary. This is especially true with her ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ series that’s become not just critically acclaimed, but a bestselling franchise worldwide too.
Living and working in Dublin, Ireland, the series follows a team of police detectives working on the Murder Squad, solving various cases and crimes. The first book came out in 2007, and would be titled In The Woods, dealing with the mystery of Rob Ryan and his case as a detective, looking into an event that happened to him twenty years prior. This would set the scene for the series to follow, as the sequel, The Likeness, would come out one year later in 2008. This time focusing on the character of Cassie Maddox, it would tell an equally compelling story, developing the world of the Murder Squad even further. There has been six titles in the series so far, with the latest novel, The Trespasser, being released in 2016, making for an extensive and enthralling series overall.
The series would also be made into a television show for the BBC, simply titled ‘Dublin Murders’, in 2019, as it would take the first two books and serialize them into an eight episode season, with Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox’s stories featuring side-by-side. Winning a number of awards too, Tana French received the ‘Edgar Award for Best First Novel’ in 2008, along with a Macavity and an Anthony Award. The series itself continues to attract readers from far and wide, with plenty of highlights standing out from the rest.
Best Dublin Murder Squad Books
My own personal top five books in the series are as follows:
See at Amazon#5: Broken Harbor (2012)
One of the luxury developments nearby has seen murder, as Patrick Spain and his two children have been killed, while his wife has been left in intensive care. Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy of the Dublin Murder Squad is called in to investigate, and it soon transpires it’s not an open-and-shut case as he initially thought. There’s a number of inconsistencies surrounding the investigation, as Kennedy soon finds himself dealing with his own past in the Broken Harbor neighborhood.
Hitting all the right beats of the mystery novel, this is an intriguing story filled with tension, drama and suspense. Tana French is on form once again in the fourth title in the series, delivering everything her readers have now come to expect from the franchise and more. There’s plenty of twists and turns, in a gritty and dark story that’s told with a real human sense of compassion and understanding.
See at Amazon#4: Faithful Place (2010)
Having grown up poor all of his life, Frank Mackey decided to run away from Dublin at the age of nineteen with Rosie Daly. She never showed up though, disappearing instead, and everyone assumed she’d gone to London to live a whole new life of her own. That was back in 1985, and now her suitcase has turned up back at her home in Faithful Place, as the now cop Frank wants to find out what happened to her.
Looking at the story through Mackey’s eyes, we get to see how driven he is, despite the other cops wanting to keep him away from the case. The third title in the series, it’s a confident entry from French that really kept me wondering throughout as to the whereabouts of Rosie. It also provides some fascinating character studies, allowing everyone to come to life, in what is an extremely strong and intelligent thriller.
See at Amazon#3: In The Woods (2007)
Twenty years prior in 1984 a young boy was found clenching a tree, his shoes filled with blood, and unable to recall any of the previous events, whilst his three friends had completely disappeared. Now the detective Rob Ryan still can’t recall that night, keeping it to himself, but when a twelve year old girl finds herself in the same situation, he realizes he must revisit his own past to solve the case. Guided by his hazy memories, he’s accompanied by Detective Cassie Maddox, as he journeys back to see what lies in the woods.
Using memory to replay the buried trauma of the past, French really understands how to play her characters off against the premise well. Knowing exactly where she’s going at all times, this is an expertly told story that really pushes the ideas and themes present forwards. She has a lot to say here in the first of the series, setting up the Dublin Murder Squad for the first time, introducing it whilst giving us a finely told mystery.
See at Amazon#2: The Trespasser (2016)
Detective Antoinette Conway knows this murder case isn’t as simple as it initially seems, despite everyone else on the Murder Squad believing that to be the case. Found dead in her idyllic home, Aislinn Murray was a young and attractive woman who seemed to have everything, and now it appears she was murdered by her boyfriend at first glance. Conway sees something else though, as she begins to realize Murray might have been hiding a life that nobody else knew about, with her friend revealing that she might have been warned prior to the murder taking place.
The relationship between Conway and her detective partner Stephen Moran is well drawn up here, as the two of them have a bond overcoming the hardships of the working environment around them. Setting the scenes with extreme care, French really goes out of her way to elevate the story above and beyond, using every line of dialogue to bring the truth behind each character out. I really felt as if I’d gotten to know each character inside and out by the end of the story, so much so that it was a shame that it ended.
See at Amazon#1: The Likeness (2008)
Summoned to the scene of a grisly crime, Detective Cassie Maddox was all set to put the Dublin Murder Squad behind her. The case suddenly catches her eye when the victim appears to be her spitting image and, not only that, but her ID’s name, Alexandra Madison, is the alias Maddox once used herself undercover. Wanting to discover more, she soon finds herself thrown into another world, all whilst untangling the clues, looking for the truth at the center of it all.
This is the second title in the series, and it really manages to carry the energy and passion of the first through, elevating it in the process. The plotting is intelligent and extremely well paced, giving it a real sense of drive throughout, whilst allowing the characters to fully shine. French really showcases her credentials as a true master of her craft here, as it’s one that I just couldn’t put down.
Best Books & Series To Read If You Like Dublin Murder Squad:
Millennium Series: This might seem a bit obvious to some given the immense popularity of Stieg Larsson’s series, but these books really do achieve what they set out to do. Dark and foreboding, the mysteries envelop you in a rich and evocative world, and the character of Lisbeth Salander at the center of them all really is a strong one. With films adapted from them, both in Sweden and in Hollywood, they’re very well told stories, if a little tough and unflinching at times.
Harry Hole: Written by the Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, these are richly evocative novels following Detective Harry Hole of the Oslo Police Department. Similar to many other famous detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes, he’s an interesting take on the genre, with his own unorthodox methods of investigation. Whilst there was a film made from the series starring Michael Fassbender in the lead-role, it’s best to start with the books themselves first.
Aaron Falk: Set in small-town Australia, this regional detective series from the Australian author Jane Harper is evocative in a manner similar to that of French. Conjuring up secrets buried in the past, it’s a great series for lovers of mystery, with richly told stories that really do make the most of the premise. Aaron Falk himself is a very well crafted detective too, as he’s set to be portrayed by the actor Eric Bana in an upcoming adaptation of the novels.
DS Manon Bradshaw: Written by the British author Susie Steiner, these mysteries follow the case-files of Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw, as she solves mysteries for the Cambridgeshire Police. Just as much as the stories are about the mysteries, they also really get to the heart of Manon herself, delivering an in-depth portrayal of an intelligent and resourceful detective. Gripping me throughout, they resonated with their richly defined atmosphere and well crafted characters, making me feel as if I was really there.
Nicole Foster: This series of novels from the contemporary American thriller author Gregg Olsen is an extremely well told collection of mysteries. Dark and gritty, they don’t shy away from their subject matter, much like French, while telling the story of former homicide detective Nicole Foster. Previously working for the Bellevue PD, it sees her attempting to pull her own life together in these fascinating character studies.
Best Podcasts If You Like Dublin Murder Squad:
10 Minute Writer’s Workshop – Tana French: Providing a brief overview of her creative process as a writer, this takes a look at the work of French and what goes into it. Speaking to the author herself, she talks about how she goes about her writing and how she creates her novels.
The Book Review – Michael Lewis and Tana French: Speaking alongside fellow writer Michael Lewis, Tana French looks at her stand-alone novel ‘The Witch Elm’. Breaking down the story, she really gets to the heart of what goes into her novels.
Writer’s Bone – The Trespasser Author Tana French: Largely revolving around her novel ‘The Trespasser’, this interview with Tana French is an illuminating one. Talking to the host Daniel Ford, it’s an interesting show that focuses on who she is as a writer and where her inspirations come from.