In the Woods in 2007, The Likeness in 2008, and Faithful Place this year. She didn't tour for Faithful Place's release, which I read was because she has small children and lives across the Atlantic.
In addition to making it her home, Ireland is also the place French chooses as the setting for her novels. For her first novel In the Woods, that setting is more specifically a middle class housing estate outside Dublin. In her second book, The Likeness, French takes readers to another area of Dublin, a small town that lies in the somewhat backwards Irish countryside. Her latest release, Faithful Place, gives readers yet another view of Dublin, by transporting them to a seedy, run-down, and largely poverty-stricken area French calls the Place.
Frank Mackey first appeared in The Likeness as Cassie Maddox's undercover boss. He taught her much about police work prior to her partnering with Rob Ryan in In the Woods. With true grit, French now tells readers Mackey's story. After the discovery of an old suitcase, he is forced to return to the Place, where his family still lives in the same run-down flat. He quickly learns that despite the years that have passed, little has changed. Details of why this particular suitcase is intriguing enough to lure him home are expertly laid out at readers' feet. French never reveals too much, but rather allows readers to learn the story bit by bit as Mackey investigates.
One particular skill French has that sends her books into the limelight is her close attention to voice. Each character's voice is drawn with pitch-perfect tone, vernacular speech, and even accent, so that readers all over the world can almost hear their Irish brogues as the story unfolds. Rather than being upset, French's characters are "wrecked"; rather than being referred to as "people like you," Frank Mackey calls people who are similar a "lot." Such distinctions not only create rich, dynamic characters, but also add to French's Irish setting.
My recommendation to new readers of French's novels would be to start with In the Woods, progress to The Likeness, and end with Faithful Place. As mentioned above, French leads each novel into the next. While far from sequels, characters with seemingly little importance in earlier novels emerge into main characters in later novels. Cassie Maddox moves from co-star to main star from In the Woods to The Likeness. Rob Ryan, main character of In the Woods, is mentioned peripherally in The Likeness, then not at all in Faithful Place. Frank Mackey, mentioned (maybe without his actual name) in In the Woods, then with a slightly bigger but still marginal role in The Likeness, graduates to main character status in Faithful Place.
All in all, French's three novels create an exciting, slightly dark picture of Ireland that is fascinating and highly entertaining.
Don't want to just take my word for it? Read what newspaper reviewers and book bloggers have said: