Tana French is one of, if not, the best mystery/thriller writers active today. Her stories are tightly written and fast-paced. She finds a way to draw you into the story with each word and creates tension in an organic fashion. You don’t realize that you are completely immersed in the story until it’s too late.
The Trespasser is no exception. It centers on Antoinette Conway and her partner, Stephen Moran. We met them in a past installment but this is the first time they’ve taken the main stage. Antoinette is having problems in the murder squad. As the only woman, she is being harassed by co-workers and encounters enemies at every turn. Seemingly, Steve is her only ally. They are assigned the crap cases; mostly domestics and other low profile killings. While their solve rate is high, the partners receive very little respect among the other detectives. When they are assigned a case that appears open and shut – girlfriend killed by boyfriend – things are not as they seem.
The plot in The Trespasser is close to perfect. French would have a 5-star book if that was all she was able to portray. A mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat. In fact, I had to take a break for a few days about halfway through. It was stressing me out a little and at that time I just couldn’t quite deal with it. Yes, books affect me emotionally and spiritually. And I love it.
Any of you that have read French’s work in the past know that she isn’t content with only writing a fabulous mystery. She has to do…more. And, in The Trespasser, the ‘more’ is the sub-plot focusing on a woman working in a traditionally male environment. Antionette is smart and good at her job. In her past work in the Missing Persons unit, she was an up and coming detective. She got on well with her fellow detectives and had a good career going. Something changed when she moved to Murder. She would return to her desk to find missing witness statements. Opening her locker, she found that someone had urinated all over her belongings. Things start to get worse as a journalist starts showing up at her scenes and writing about her in a negative light. When she walks into the squad room, she sees nothing but sneers and snickering around her. She has reached her boiling point by the time they are assigned the murder of Aislinn Murray.
In a past life (many moons ago), I worked my way up the corporate ladder. As a woman, I faced different obstacles than my male counterparts. At one point I was managing a small department. I was ready to move on to a different department in the company that would afford more opportunities for advancement. Before I could transfer, my supervisor hired my replacement from outside and asked me to spend a week training him. The first day, I saw that it was going to be a challenge for him to do the job. He had almost no computer skills and it was imperative that he learn. I remember sitting at the desk and asking him to use the mouse to move to a different screen. He looked at me with a blank stare. I said, “Put your hand on the mouse and move the curser until you can click this button.” Again, I received a blank stare. I said, “Put your hand on the mouse.” Exceedingly uncomfortable, I had to put my hand over his and show him how to move the mouse and how to click the button. We struggled through his training for the next several days and I was just counting the hours until the end of the week. I knew that the following Monday I would be on a new adventure. On Thursday, I was allowing him to try to do a few things on his own and I was wrapping up some work at my desk. I went to the printer to pick up something and on top was a printout. Many of us shared a common printer, so I scanned the document so that I could deliver it to the right person (we all did this as a courtesy). What I found stopped me in my tracks. It was my replacement’s job offer letter showing his salary. Before I realized, I was able to see that he was making significantly (and I mean significantly) more in salary than me. With a shaking hand, I replaced it on the printer and walked into the restroom to calm down. I kept my mouth shut that day and went home to think. At the end of the day, I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. I said nothing and just went on to my new job the following Monday. And, guess what? Over the next several years I moved my way quickly up the corporate ladder and I ended up making a lot of money. I was very fairly compensated. Did I ever forget? No (as you can see by the detail I’ve remembered above). But, I didn’t let it make me bitter and I decided that my work should speak for itself. And it did. But, in all truthfulness, there is still a small part of me that gets angry when I think about this story. Tana French brought out this memory. (If any of you are wondering, this gentleman lasted less than a month in the job after I left. It would be too easy to say “Neener neener”. Oh heck, who cares – NEENER NEENER!!!)
Antoinette’s issue isn’t compensation; it’s a hostile work environment. She tried to ignore the jibes and ‘slagging’. Unfortunately, this is a no win scenario. If you ignore, you are considered weak and unable to deal. If you respond in kind, you are a “bitch” and don’t get along well with others. When Antionette rightfully puts a co-worker in his place, she is branded as toxic and this begins her downward spiral in the Murder Squad.
Or…maybe not. ***spoilers coming – not on the main plot but on Antoinette’s situation***
Men, you might not have dealt with anything similar so may not be able to sympathize with what I’m about to say. Women, most of you will be nodding your head and saying “yes” to everything.
Antoinette is angry. She’s had to deal with too much and distrusts everyone around her. She even starts to question the gaffer (her boss), Steve (her partner) and a friend she calls for help from Missing Persons. The treatment she’s receives has made her paranoid. She starts creating scenarios in her head where everyone is out to get her and she might as well just give up her job.
I have done this so many times. When something isn’t going well or I’m dealing with a situation, I will have pre-conversations in my head. I’ve played out the entire scene before it even happens. By the time I get to the real interaction, I am primed for it to go a certain way. If it does go negatively (as I’ve played out), was it inevitable or did my attitude lead it in that direction?
What if Antoinette finds out that her real problems and harassment in the murder squad are sourced to only one person? (Yes, he has bad-mouthed her and created false stories that have made the others wary but they aren’t after her themselves.). And, what if the gaffer gives her the domestics because he knows she will work them hard and treat the victims with the respect that they deserve? What if he’s actually supporting her in trying to keep her solve rate high so she can gain the respect of her coworkers?
As a woman, this is what we deal with almost every day. It’s easy to be untrusting and angry. I try to choose to give people the benefit of the doubt when I can and to also choose my battles appropriately. I don’t always succeed but I try.
Antoinette learns that she does have allies and those that want her to succeed. Her anger was blinding her to the truth. And, once she got to that truth, it allowed her to change herself and, hopefully, the course of her life.
P.S. There is also a sub-plot about the thin blue line. I could spend days writing about this as well but I’m sure others will have focused on this. Another stellar addition to the story.