Beginning with French's debut novel In the Woods in 2007, the series is somewhat unique in Detective Fiction for not being centered on a single protagonist who solves multiple cases from book to book. After each installment is concluded and the case it involves done and dusted, a secondary character takes the wheel as first-person narrator. 2008's The Likeness is told from the perspective of Cassie Maddox, who first appeared as Rob Ryan's partner in In the Woods; 2010's Faithful Place concerns Cassie's former boss Frank Mackey, who was a major player in The Likeness. 2012's Broken Harbour introduces us to the inner world of Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, Frank's straight-edged foil in Faithful Place. And so on.
This switching isn't just a gimmick; it's a vital condition on which French's Signature Style hinges. In the words of her first protagonist, Rob Ryan, "Every detective has a certain kind of case that he or she finds almost unbearable, against which the usual shield of practiced professional detachment turns brittle and untrustworthy." Each novel finds a character dealing with a case whose outcome is destined to change his or her life forever, whether because of a personal stake or simply because the details of the story resonate uncomfortably with his or her worldview or history.
A TV adaptation, known as Dublin Murders, has aired in North America and in Europe in October/November 2019 and they're based on In the Woods and The Likeness.
Books in this series include:
- In the Woods
- The Likeness
- Faithful Place
- Broken Harbour (US: Broken Harbor)
- The Secret Place
- The Trespasser
The series as a whole contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Disorder: Dina Kennedy has long periods of almost-normality followed by breakdowns, strong mood swings, paranoia, and hallucinations (not to mention probably PTSD from her mother committing suicide and trying to bring her along), but has never had a diagnosis that stuck.
- Bittersweet Ending: As good as it ever gets in this series, usually heavy on the bitter.
- In Faithful Place, the murder is solved, Frank and Liv are reconciling, but his family has been totally blown apart by the revelation his brother is a murderer and his eight-year-old daughter is a key witness.
- In The Secret Place, Moran and Conway have formed their partnership and netted a place for Moran on Murder, but Holly's tight-knit group of friends is ruined.
- In The Trespasser, probably the sweetest, Moran and Conway's friendship is repaired and the people harassing Conway are off the squad, but O'Kelly is going to be forced into retirement because a corrupt detective tried to cover up a murder on his watch.
- Corrupt Cop: In The Trespasser, Moran spends a good bit of the book kicking around a theory about a gang hit and cops on the take. While this turns out to be incorrect, there is corruption involved, in that another detective committed the murder and his partner is trying to pin it on the victim's boyfriend.
- Dark and Troubled Past: This seems to be a requirement for being on the squad. Ranges from the hardships that come with growing up poor (Moran and Conway) to being the sole survivor of a child massacre (Rob).
- Defective Detective: Pick a protagonist, any protagonist.
- Divorce Is Temporary: Frank and Liv. Justified in that a lot of the issues that drove them apart (such as Frank still being in love with Rosie) are external rather than due to a fundamental incompatibility and get resolved.
- Doomed by Canon: The Likeness takes place after the arc of In the Woods but before the epilogue, meaning that Cassie's engagement to Sam and continued estrangement from the Murder Squad are a done deal.
- Doom Magnet: Holly Mackey somehow ends up in the middle of two murder cases before she's even eighteen.
- Downer Ending: Oh, yes.
- Into the Woods ends with every single plotline completely crashing and burning, even the extremely minor ones, like the archaeologists who were protesting the highway's construction over their site.
- Broken Harbor may end with the murder solved, but Richie's been busted back to uniform, Scorcher forces himself into retirement, and now the murderer and her remaining family are going to have to spend the rest of their lives with the fact she killed her own children.
- Dysfunction Junction: The Murder Squad themselves and (naturally) the figures in their cases.
- For Want of a Nail: Oh, Rob, if only you'd double-checked Rosalind's birth date. He only checked the year, not the month. Rosalind is actually a few weeks shy of being eighteen, which utterly destroys their case against her, since it relies on testimony she gives without an adult present.
- Last-Name Basis: Cassie is just about the only person on the squad who uses people's first names as a matter of course.
- Magical Realism: In The Secret Place, Holly and her friends get some minor magical abilities, seemingly through the power of their bond.
- My God, What Have I Done?: After falsifying evidence to catch the murderer in Broken Harbour, Scorcher decides he can no longer trust himself to be a cop.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Richie takes Dina, Scorcher's younger sister who has a severe mental illness, into his apartment when he finds her lost so that nothing bad will happen to her. She then finds a piece of evidence he has been concealing, and, falling into this trope herself, brings it to the station to help her brother, where Quigley, the department asshole, promptly bullies it out of her.
- The One That Got Away: Frank Mackey spent eighteen years believing his first love, Rosie, dumped him and went to England without him, and subconsciously never stopped expecting her to come back. Then her suitcase is found stuffed up the chimney of the building they were supposed to meet in, and a teenage girl's body is unearthed in the basement...
- The Ophelia: Deconstructed with Dina Kennedy. She has all the hallmarks—gorgeous, artsy, prone to wearing white, etc—but when she's one of her downward spirals things get ugly and painful for her and everyone around her.
- Rotating Protagonist
- Sanity Slippage: In Broken Harbour, a husband and wife living in a half-finished development were slowly losing their minds before someone slaughtered them—the husband from believing there was some kind of wild animal in their house he couldn't catch, the wife from having to keep it together with two small children and no source of income while her husband's obsession consumed him.
- With the possible exception of Stephen Moran, all the first-person characters go through this in their respective installments.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Frank's MO. Deconstructed with a different protagonist, however, when Scorcher falsifies evidence to catch a murderer. Because the rules are his benchmark for right, it destroys his confidence in himself—now that he's crossed that line once, even for a good reason, he can never be sure he won't cross it again.
- The Sociopath: Several characters in In the Woods: Cassie recognizes Cathal Mills and Rosalind Devlin as psychopaths due to her own dealings with a psychopath in college.
- Stalker Without a Crush: Conway has one for most of The Trespasser. At first she thinks it's because there might be a threat on her life, but it's actually her father.
- To Be Lawful or Good: Scorcher is of the opinion that you have to pick Lawful, because human brains are intrinsically unreliable, whereas Richie is more flexible. This conflict is central to the climax of Broken Harbor, wherein Richie has chosen good, at least as he sees it, by hiding evidence to allow the killer freedom to commit suicide; and Scorcher goes against the law to try and fix it. This destroys them both.
- True Companions: Introduced, deconstructed, and subverted all over the place, since the novels are about what somebody will do when their psychological pressure points get pushed too hard. Partners are usually this, although it's more common than not for it to be blown all to hell by the end of the book ( Moran and Conway are the only partnership to make it through). Also, Holly and her friends at first, but it starts to fall apart until one of them commits a murder to save one of the others, as the murderer sees it, from herself.)
- Uptown Girl: Olivia to Frank. Played for drama, as deep down he thought a boy from Faithful Place could never be good enough for her (especially because he thought Rosie, his first love, had also decided he wasn't good enough) . This was one of the issues that drove them apart, even though Olivia never even thought of that as a mark against him.Frank [bitterly]: Lady Chatterley likes her bit of rough, eh?
- World of Snark: Inevitable when you put a bunch of Irish people in a setting that necessitates Gallows Humor.