In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin – half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned – two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.
Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family, one summer at Broken Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . . .
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Publication Date: July 2, 2012 by Hatchette Books
I don’t think it’s quite possible to put into words how much I LOVED this book. I know all my reviews of Tana French’s novels have been positive, but now I worry how the next two books in the series will stack up compared to Broken Harbour because WOW.
Like French’s other stories, Broken Harbour is full of characters with serious depth (and serious issues) and the big pull in the plot is more about why and how the murders occurred – not as much about who committed them. What makes this book stand out from the others is its focus on mental illness and the layers upon layers in the plot that kept me second guessing my thoughts about the murder and the characters over and over again.
Broken Harbour is a place of isolation and despair. Those who chose to move there did so under a false pretense and now find themselves stuck with a house no one wants to buy, surrounded by wilderness. Not only does French create a sense of danger with the unknown – the shadows of large animals, the ominously dark water, the feeling that nature is just waiting to take over Broken Harbour once more – but she also intensifies the utter loneliness of the environment with the abandoned construction materials and lack of human society.
As usual, French does a phenomenal job with characterization and the reader is quickly absorbed in both Kelly’s personal narrative as well as the lives of all the people surrounding him in both his personal life and his current murder case. While Faithful Place also included the narrator’s family members and found a way to connect them to the plot, Broken Harbour took that one step further and created a strong parallel between the mental state of Kelly’s younger sister and the slow unravelling of the Spains family. French raises plenty of questions about how people with mental illness are treated and does a fantastic job of delving into the sense of shame and loneliness that goes along with it.
Although Broken Harbour is much more psychological than prior Dublin Murder Squad novels, French doesn’t disappoint with the murder mystery either. Whereas prior story lines took a long time to unfold, the book starts with a bang when Kelly is asked to investigate a triple murder – a slain father and young children with the mother barely hanging on in the hospital. While the nature of the crime was perhaps more brutal than prior books, it was also much more multifaceted and layered. Much of the book left me questioning what I really believed or knew about characters and I can honestly say I did not see the ending coming at all. I felt so swept up in the intensity of it all that I couldn’t put the book down until I knew the outcome and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
For those who perhaps though In the Woods was a bit drawn out and weren’t necessarily convinced enough to read more of Tana French’s work, I’d highly recommend reading Broken Harbour – I flew through these 500+ pages and felt breathless by the end. It seems that French’s writing only improves with each new novel!