In Tana French’s new novel, The Trespasser, a detective’s suspicions about an unsolved murder lead right into her Dublin squad room. Below, the award-winning author of The Secret Place recommends six other mystery novels that break the rules.
Best books…chosen by Tana French
Innocent Blood by P.D. James (Touchstone, $16). When James’s heroine tracks down her biological parents, the truth comes as a shock: Her mother is in jail for killing a child Philippa’s father had raped. And she’s about to be released…. The heart of a mystery novel typically is a whodunit, but the mysteries here are much more subtle and crucial than that: the nature of identity, intimacy, and redemption.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (Norton, $16). Tom Ripley, broke and living by his wits, kills golden boy Dickie Greenleaf and steals his identity. Usually the big payoff of a mystery book is the moment when the killer is exposed. Patricia Highsmith turns that upside down: When Ripley comes close to exposure, you’re on the edge of your seat hoping that payoff won’t happen.
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (Scribner, $16). A young girl stumbles home beaten and half-dressed. She claims she was kidnapped—but is it true? There’s no murder here; the most serious crime the villain commits is perjury. And yet it’s a chilling portrait of a fledgling psychopath and of the emotional damage that psychopaths can inflict.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $17). Richard Papen is drawn into an elite group of classics students at his New England college, but gradually he realizes that the intensity and ruthlessness that attracted him go deeper than he thought. You find out on the first page who killed whom—and you still can’t put the book down.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $14). Poirot has retired, but when he’s presented with a murder— and a neighbor longing to be his sidekick—he can’t resist. This is the book that pioneered the unreliable narrator in mystery. That change put the whole structure of the genre up for grabs.
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe (Delta, $16). Francie Brady is growing up rough in small-town Ireland, and he’s done something terrible to Mrs. Nugent. Here, again, whodunit is never the question: It’s whydunit. The story— devastating, violent, and often very funny— unfolds through Francie’s eyes, as his world and his mind slowly disintegrate.