Tana French’s Moody, Mesmerizing New Thriller

THE HUNTER, by Tana French

Four years ago in these pages, the critic Janet Maslin published a guide to “the essential Tana French.” For some of French’s fans, all the novels are essential. Others prefer her standalones or her Dublin Murder Squad series — six loosely connected mysteries that explore different viewpoints and settings within the reassuring confines of one department. Unpredictability and a refusal to be boring are part of French’s talent, and they make the books (almost) as much fun to debate as they are to read.

“The Searcher,” published in 2020, felt like a sort of cousin to the earlier books; its hero, Cal Hooper, is an ex-cop from Chicago who’s seeking a measure of peace by moving to a remote village in western Ireland. Instead, a rebellious, preteen outcast named Trey Reddy enlists his help in finding her missing brother. As Cal soon learns, Ardnakelty’s hills are roiling with “unseen things”; the close-knit community is claustrophobic and self-policing. Its tacit rules and codes prove nearly impenetrable.

In “The Hunter,” Cal, two years older, is still living in Ardnakelty. By now, rural Ireland has lost its romantic charm, but he has found actual romance with a local woman, Lena, and developed a paternal relationship with the teenage Trey. Smart, angry and talented, Trey — who helps Cal refinish and repair old furniture — has earned the grudging respect of villagers slow to relinquish their idea of the Reddy family as the anointed town losers.

When Trey’s feckless father, Johnny, reappears, he’s trailing get-rich-quick schemes and a wealthy Londoner eager to reconnect with his roots — a “plastic paddy” filled with dreams of the Ould Sod. Cal and Lena want Trey to stay well clear, but she has different ideas. This is more than a teenager’s rebellion; what Trey can’t see is that the adults are battling for her future in a place where fatalism has just about taken the place of religion.

To an outsider, the predictable rhythms of village life (Thursdays at the pub; gossip at the grocery store) look quaintly unchanged; we — through Cal — know differently. No one in Ardnakelty is under any illusions: Elderly bachelors lack for wives, young people can’t find jobs and climate change is destroying their way of life in real time.

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