I fell in love this summer. It was unexpected and thrilling, the sort of toe-curling romance found mostly in movies or first-love memories. It started, as these things so often do, with a book.
I’m not much for light reading. I don’t pack “beach reads” when I go on vacation. I have zero interest in books with happy endings. Hopeful endings, sure, but spare me the boy-meets-girl-happily-ever-after-forever-and-ever narrative, or the hero-always-solves-the-case-and-saves-the-day stories. Those books are too predictable. They’re the kind of books you’ll take home to mother, but they’ll never set your heart racing. I like my books like I like my men: smart, complicated, hard to classify. Which is why I was gobsmacked to fall head-over-heels with a series of detective novels. Not just any detective novels, but the novels of Tana French.
French is a bestselling author with a half-dozen novels on the shelves. Her debut, In The Woods, won a slew of awards, including the Edgar. So plenty of folks have already fallen for French’s work, but I only just discovered her. French’s novels, set in the fictional world of the Dublin Murder Squad, are so good that I can’t read them fast enough and I don’t want them to end.
I stumbled upon French, when, a month ago, I extended a trip at the last minute and realized that I’d need more reading material to get me through my travels. We have a Little Free Library in our front yard and I decided to see if anything looked intriguing. I pulled out a well-worn paperback of In The Woods. I liked the cover art and it seemed thick enough to get me through a long day on planes and in airports. I barely scanned the description, so I didn’t realize it was part of a detective series until I cracked it open. I was disappointed for about two seconds until I read the first few sentences and realized it was anything but a formulaic genre novel. French describes the world of Dublin in such rich language that I can smell every pint of beer and every smoldering fire. Her detectives are complex and flawed and richly drawn. I would happily read about them even if they weren’t solving a mystery. And the mysteries she lays out are so much more complicated than simple murders. She tells stories using multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, non-linear scenes, and gives readers incredible access to the interior lives of her characters. And the pacing? She should teach a master class on pacing. I would fly to Dublin to learn from her.
I don’t tell you this to turn you into fans of Tana French, though I do highly recommend her books. I tell you this because I sometimes forget how joyful it can be to fall in love with an author when no one has told you to love her. I get so used to reading books recommended by other writers that I can go months or even years without discovering a book on my own, but it’s the stumble-finds that stick with me. When I was young and my mother took me to the library each week, I didn’t have anyone whispering in my ear about what makes good literature. I chose books based on gut-level attraction. Those books made me very happy.
As an adult, wiser and choosier, I’m grateful to be influenced by smart, literary-focused readers. But I took two books along on that trip. One was a brand new, critically lauded, much hyped literary hardcover from a debut author getting a ton of buzz. It came highly recommended by bloggers, critics at the major newspapers, and my own literary community. It should have been a perfect match. The writing was beautiful. The concept intrigued me, but my pulse never quickened while reading it. I never swooned. When I finished that book, I shoved it back in my suitcase without a thought. It was fine, but forgettable. But In The Woods? I finished that bad boy in a frenzy. I read the final pages about 30 minutes before landing in Denver. I spent that half-hour reluctantly emerging from the fever-dream of Tana French’s dark imagination. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story, the characters, and the language. I wanted more.
Since then, I’ve embarked on a frenzied affair with French’s books. I am smitten. And I love the books even more because I discovered them on my own. A good set up from well-intentioned friends is dandy, but there is something about locking eyes with a stranger that is far more exciting. I plan to pick up strangers more often in the future. I’ll be trolling for my next love affair at the library and the Tattered Cover. No need for introductions. I’m going to trust my instincts.