A beginner’s guide to Tana French

I’m a bit late to the party on Irish crime writer, Tana French, whose first novel In the Woods was released nearly a decade ago. It came out just before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit bookshelves, and despite winning a slew of awards I suspect it may have slipped under other people’s radars as well as mine with the onslaught of Scando-crime that followed.

As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is one of the best-kept secrets in the crime genre. Her focus on strong characters and character development over sensationalistic depictions of violence is refreshing, while her mysteries are deeply compelling, and incredibly diverse. The five books (soon to be six!) in the series feature different detectives and vastly different scenarios. You can read each book as a stand-alone, or as a series.

Here they all are, in order of publication, just in case you want to chain read them all, back-to-back.


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In the Woods

At the age of 12, Rob Ryan was discovered on the edge of the woods near his home with slash marks on his back, and his shoes full of someone else’s blood. He was with two friends at the time of his disappearance and of them, nothing is ever heard of again. Even in adulthood, Rob (now a detective for the Dublin Police) has never recovered the memories from the period that he was missing. 22 years later he’s put his past behind him but when he and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are sent to investigate another murder of a child in the same stretch of woods, Rob’s history – kept secret from everyone but Maddox – threatens to overwhelm him.

French’s skill for well-developed characters is illustrated beautifully in her first book. The reader has the feeling of being invited into an existing world with established and familiar relationships already in play. Like all of the books in this series, In the Woods explores the theme of memory, and how the past continues to affect the present.


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The Likeness

Traumatised by the fall out following the events of In the Woods, detective Cassie Maddox has abandoned her position in the Murder Squad, but her former mentor, undercover detective Frank Mackey, drags her back in when a young woman is discovered murdered in an abandoned house. The dead woman, Lexie Madison, isn’t just a dead ringer for Cassie but she goes by the same name the detective used in a former undercover case. With no other leads to go on, Mackie sends Cassie back into the murdered girl’s sharehouse as ‘Lexie’, with the hope that whoever killed her has another crack at it.

The premise of The Likeness is a little implausible, I’ll admit, but once you get over the concept that one person can be swapped out for another if they look enough alike, it’s a taut and tense thriller. Sent into the viper’s den, Cassie must feel her way around the complicated dynamics of house without revealing her true identity, all the while knowing that there’s every chance she’s living with a murderer.


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Faithful Place

Frank Mackey is your textbook crime-novel detective. Battle-wearied from a rough childhood in an abusive, working class family, he has a past, a failed marriage, an estranged daughter, and a flexible moral code when it comes to Getting His Guy. When he was 19 he ran away from home, but Rosie, his childhood sweetheart, never made the planned rendezvous. When her abandoned suitcase and then, her body, is discovered 20 years later in a decrepit building near his family home, Frank realises that Rosie never even managed to leave the street. Frustrated that his personal connection to the crime means he can’t be involved in Cold Case’s investigation, Frank decides to conduct his own inquiries to find out who committed the murder.

While lots of crime novels transplant their protagonists into another landscape, French drags her detective unwillingly back into his own troubled history, and addresses issues of class, progress, and prejudice by doing so.


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Broken Harbour

Scorcher Kennedy is the star of the Dublin Murder Squad. Dismissed by Frank Mackey in Faithful Place as a ‘pompous, rule-bound, boring git’, nobody can argue that he’s the team’s most successful detective – the one with the highest solve rate. In Broken Harbour, Scorcher has been given a prestigious multiple murder case, but he’s also been saddled with an enthusiastic new trainee detective, Richie Curran.

At first the case seems like a straightforward murder-suicide, and Scorcher – eager to maintain his reputation, and dealing with a time-sensitive personal issue – is keen to close it, but Richie is certain there’s more to the crime than meets the eye. Scorcher Kennedy isn’t the most sympathetic of Tana French’s detectives, but there’s something about his gradual unravelling that is deeply affecting.


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The Secret Place

Holly, Frank Mackey’s daughter, is a student at a prestigious girls’ boarding school when a murder is committed on the grounds. A year later she appears at Detective Stephen Moran’s door with new information that may help the police find the killer. Stephen met Holly during his involvement in the cold case he investigated back in Faithful Place, and he knows that this is his opportunity to prove himself worthy of a position on the Murder Squad.

Partnered up with the prickly Antoinette Conway, who hit a brick wall the first time she investigated the murder, Stephen knows they’ve got less than 24 hours to untangle the complex dynamics at the school and uncover the killer. This limited time-line imbues The Secret Place with a sense of urgency that keeps a reader furiously turning pages.


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The Trespasser

The sixth book in French’s series is due for release in late September. The Trespasser will focus on Antoinette Conway, whose partnership with Stephen Moran was solidified during The Secret Place. Conway and Moran have been assigned a seemingly straightforward case, but come to realise that someone within the squad is trying to steer the investigation.

Pre-order your copy here


Lian Hingee is the digital marketing manager for Readings.

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5)

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5)

Tana French

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 Read reviewThe Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad Book 6)

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad Book 6)

Tana French

You can beat one killer. Beating your own squad is a whole other thing. This is the case that will make Detective Antoinette Conway's murder squad career. Or break it. A searing novel of psychological suspense from the...

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The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5)

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5)

Tana French

Marian Keyes tweeted 'it's brilliant!', Marie Claire calls it 'a gripping read for those still pining for GONE GIRL' and Gillian Flynn says it's 'an absolutely mesmerizing read'. They all know who killed him. Do you?

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Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad Book 4)

Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad Book 4)

Tana French

A searing psychological crime novel from the international bestseller

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Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 3)

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 3)

Tana French

A compelling psychological mystery from one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction

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The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad Book 2)

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad Book 2)

Tana French

Tana French follows her stunning accomplished debut, IN THE WOODS, with an equally compelling psychological mystery that confirms her place as one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.

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In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Book 1)

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Book 1)

Tana French

A stunningly accomplished psychological mystery which will take you on a thrilling journey through a tangled web of evil and beyond - to the inexplicable.

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