Book Club Questions: The Trespasser by Tana French

Antoinette Conway, the tough, abrasive detective from The Secret Place, is still on the Murder squad, but only just. She’s partnered up with Stephen Moran now, and that’s going well – but the rest of her working life isn’t. Antoinette doesn’t play well with others, and there’s a vicious running campaign in the squad to get rid of her. She and Stephen pull a case that at first looks like a slam-dunk lovers’ tiff, but gradually they realize there’s more going on: someone on their own squad is trying to push them towards the obvious solution, away from nagging questions. They have to work out whether this is just an escalation in the drive to get rid of her – or whether there’s something deeper and darker going on.

Tana French! Oh, Tana French. She is, unquestionably, one of my all-time favorite authors, and certainly the best mystery author I’ve ever read. The Trespasser had just come out and, since we had both just gotten our long-awaited copies from the library, my friend and I decided we might as well read it for book club. Our three-hour discussion was then regularly punctuated with exclamations of, “Oh my god! Tana French is just so good.”

The competition is fierce, but I think this might well be my favorite book of the entire Dublin Murder Squad series. If you’ve never read anything by Tana French, I highly suggest you start. (It’s not essential that the Dublin Murder Squad series be read in order, but I would recommend it.) If you love mystery books that aren’t really mystery books but actually tightly focused explorations of one character’s subjective point of view, or if you love beautifully written books in which every single sentence is dripping with unbearable suspense, then reading this book would be a good idea.

Discussion questions under the cut!

Consider the title of this novel. On how many levels is it working? Do you feel the title does a good job of framing the novel for the reader?

Antoinette frequently comments on how Stephen is too cheerful, too nice, or too optimistic. (As he says in The Secret Place: “I love beautiful; always have. I never saw why I should hate what I wish I had.”) Do you feel this is a hindrance to him as a detective? Do you think Antoinette’s more pessimistic outlook is more beneficial in the world of crime solving?

Consider your answer to the last question when you also think about Antoinette’s comparison between Missing Persons and Murder. She says Missing Persons is a place for people chasing happy endings, something which Murder never provides. Given this, why do you think Antoinette and Stephen each feel like they belong on the Murder Squad? What does it provide for them?

French has now spent two books introducing and concluding a will-they-won’t-they relationship – unusual storytelling only in the sense that the relationship is a friendship, as opposed to a romance. Would you have found a romance equally satisfying? Or would it have disappointed you? Why do you think that is? How would a romance as opposed to a friendship have changed Antoinette’s story?

To quote Jane Austen from Sense and Sensibility, “If I could but know his heart, everything would become easy.” How do you think Tana French uses 1st person narration to build tension? Have you ever read a mystery book with narration that featured multiple points of view? Does this seem like an unpopular choice in the mystery genre? If so, why?

As you might have noticed, narratives are the dominant theme of this novel – how we create them, dismantle them, fight against them, or succumb to them. Consider this theme in the context of the entire Dublin Murder Squad series. Does it seem like something exclusive to this book or like a running theme throughout Tana French’s work?

Guillermo del Toro said the following about his filmography:

I cannot pontificate about it, but by the time I’m done, I will have done one movie, and it’s all the movies I want.

People say, you know, “I like your Spanish movies more than I like your English-language movies because they are not as personal,” and I go, “Fuck, you’re wrong!” Hellboy is as personal to me as Pan’s Labyrinth. They’re tonally different, and yes, of course you can like one more than the other – the other one may seem banal or whatever it is that you don’t like. But it really is part of the same movie. You make one movie.

Hitchcock did one movie, all his life.

Do you feel the same can be said of Tana French? How about other famous mystery authors?

Note: Think of this in terms of an author exploring the same themes again and again in their work – del Toro tends to explore different types of genre film in his movies, while Hitchcock kept coming back to the same ideas in a more obvious way.

Charles Finch breaks down some ideas on the two ways you can create suspense in this article: the trick, which is to keep secrets from the reader, versus the art, which is to force characters into making decisions. Do you feel The Trespasser leans more towards one of these methods than the other? What techniques does Tana French use to build up suspense in this novel?

In classic detective novels, such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot, the red herrings distract everyone but the main detective, who sees through them easily. In this novel, pretty much the opposite of that happens. Do you think this approach is unique to Tana French or something typical of modern crime fiction?

We got comfortable being inside Stephen Moran’s head during The Secret Place. Throughout the Dublin Murder Squad series, this is the first time we’ve been reintroduced to a narrator as a major secondary character (although Frank Mackey put in an appearance in the last book). Did your time spent in Stephen’s head in The Secret Place alter your perception of Antoinette’s narration when it came to her opinions on Stephen? How would your experience be different if you hadn’t read the series in order?

Tana French tends to leave something unresolved or unanswered in her novels – in this case, whether Aislinn’s death was murder or manslaughter. Typically, the number one thing the mystery novel reader is looking for is answers – so how do you think French gets away with leaving certain questions unanswered?

What do you think makes Tana French unique as a mystery author? If you’re having difficulty coming up with concrete reasons, think of books you would describe as comparable to this book. (I would suggest The Secret History.) What is similar between these novels? What sets them apart from the rest of the mystery genre?

On that note, mystery is typically separated out from the rest of realistic fiction into its own genre section of the book store. What defines a mystery book for you? Is the value and quality of mystery fiction diminished in public opinion, similar to fantasy and sci-fi?

Just for fun: who do you think the next narrator in the Dublin Murder Squad series is going to be?

If you use these questions to shape an online discussion post of your own, please link back and give credit.

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