"The Searcher," by Tana French (Viking)

Cal Hooper, a Chicago cop whose wife has left him for reasons he does not yet understand, tells himself he's done with police work. He retires from the force, moves to western Ireland, buys an abandoned country house, and sets to work fixing it up. Not much given to introspection, his therapy is carpentry, hiking through the countryside, and fishing its streams.

Cal's clannish neighbors aren't the welcoming sort, but gradually some of them appear to warm to him, sharing stories and hard liquor at the village pub. Before long, however, the reader senses that unknown danger lurks in the region's green pastures and fog-shrouded mountains.

Irish novelist Tana French spends the opening chapters of "The Searcher," her eighth book, skillfully fashioning her complex characters and vividly portraying the harsh beauty of the landscape. The plot doesn't get going until Trey, a pre-pubescent child from a poor mountain family, asks Cal to find a brother who has suddenly gone missing.

At first, Cal declines, but Trey, who has nowhere else to turn, keeps pestering him. When Cal finally relents and starts nosing around, he gets both himself and Trey in a world of trouble with locals who have something to hide.

French's novels are marketed as mysteries because crimes happen in them, but there's little here to remind readers of best-selling crime writers such as Michael Connelly and Hank Phillippi Ryan. French is more interested in exploring how her characters react to stress and how they resolve moral dilemmas than in plot twists, suspense, and "whodunit."

In fact, there's less suspense in "The Searcher" than in French's earlier novels. However, readers who share her interest in exploring the lives of flawed and compelling characters will find much to love here, including prose as vivid and poetic as you are likely to find anywhere.