“The rules in my road went like this: no matter how skint you are, if you go to the pub then you stand your round; if your mate gets into a fight, you stick around to drag him off as soon as you see blood, so no one loses face; you leave the heroin to them down in the flats; even if you’re an anarchist punk rocker this month, you go to Mass on Sunday; and no matter what, you never, ever squeal on anyone.”
Faithful Place or, simply, The Place, as it is often called is more than a presence in French’s gripping novel. It is a character in its own right, with a rough, heavy menace that you watch out of the corner of your eye, and never turn your back on. Detective Francis (Frank) Mackey of Dublin’s Undercover Squad left Faithful Place at the age of nineteen, and in the past twenty-two years has tried to put as much distance from it as possible. The Place won’t stand for that kind of faithless behavior, not while it can still grab him by the throat and drag him back into its ugly heart.
Mackey has not only tried to leave the Place behind, he has virtually cut off all contact with his sprawling, unpredictable tough-love family. That is until he gets a call from his sister, Jackie, informing him of a recently unearthed suitcase, belonging to Rosie Daly – Frank’s ex-girlfriend, his first love, who pretty much broke his heart. Mackey, now a divorced father, with a nine-year old daughter whom he fiercely protects, and an ex-wife for whom he still carries a flame, is reluctantly drawn back to the maelstrom of the Place, only to be inevitably caught in its undertow.
French is a compelling writer with a snazzy style that immediately snags our attention, and Frank Mackey is a not unattractive version of the macho, hard-boiled cop. The story propels itself on its own momentum, till the point it doesn’t. Somewhere around the middle of the book, Frank’s swaggering charm wears thin, the sparkle in the language fizzles out, the suspense has made its exit, and the plot limps towards an uninspired finish. The reader is at least of the same mind as Mackey about his home – not a nice Place to visit, and a good one to leave behind.