154 of 163 people found the following review helpful
A 500-odd page novel set in the Irish recession isn't a description which attracts me, I must admit. I only tried this on the recommendation of a friend and I am extremely glad I did. I thought it was an exceptionally good book - well written, completely gripping and very intelligent. It is told in the first person by the detective investigating an attack on a family which leaves the father and two young children dead and the mother seriously injured. The investigation of the crime itself is very well done but it is the depth of Dana French's characters and the sharpness and humanity of her insights which marks this out as an exceptionally good book.
The narrative voice is terrifically believable and readable. The narrator, Detective Mike Kennedy is, for all his flaws, a very sympathetic character and the revelations about his personal life and past are delicately and insightfully done. The story unfolds at a very measured pace but is utterly gripping throughout and is genuine it's-very-late-but-just-one-more-chapter stuff. We get a real feel for the lives of both narrator and the victims, a heart-wrenching portrait of what the boom-and-bust economy in Ireland has really done to some of its people, and varied, poignant portraits of what it means when certainty and control of one's life begin to unravel and when well-intentioned actions go wrong.
I thought this was a terrific book. An unequivocal five stars and very warmly recommended.
82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
If you're looking for a novel that you can lose yourself in for a few days, a book that will "get you to thinking," this is it. I have found that a really great read stirs up the emotions. This is such a work.
The book begins with a heinous crime. Two children, ages four and six, are smothered in their beds. Their father, Pat Spain, is stabbed to death. Their mother, Jenny, is repeatedly stabbed, and clings to life. All of this takes place in the space of a few minutes. Three (or is it four?) prime suspects emerge.
It's set in a new house close by the Irish Sea. This sentence might conjure up images quite different from the structure in this book. The Spain house is part of a huge development sloppily thrown up in great haste to make quick bucks just before the mortgage bubble burst a few years ago. When the economy went south the developer abandoned the project, leaving a wasteland of partially finished homes to rot away. Occupied houses, like the Spains', were significantly flawed.
Several months before the murders Pat loses his job, becoming "redundant." (The first time I saw this word describing those fired because of the recession.) The Spains are running out of money, so the pressure mounts. They are in immminent danger of losing their cherished (despite its faults) home. Pat spends a lot of time sitting at home, thinking, brooding, imagining... Jenny stays busy taking care of her children, but she sorely misses her earlier, cash-lubricated, comfortable life.
There is a swarm of subplots. Mick Kennedy is the narrator. We learn a lot about him just by the way he spins the story. He's a veteran detective with the Garda, the Irish national police. He views himself as a "straight arrow" who never breaks the rules. He has a strong conviction record, but he craves a solve in the Spain murders because it's the kind of high-profile crime that will give him star status and likely overshadow a big case that he fumbled a couple of years earlier. (A loathsome jerk detective likes to remind him of this earlier incident.)
Mick's partner working the Spain murders is young Richie Curran. This is Richie's first work as a detective, and he desperately does not want to go back to uniform. Much of the novel is about Mick's interaction with Richie. Mick views himself as Richie's mentor, and Mick is very serious about wanting to teach Richie how to be a good detective. And, not at all surprisingly, given author Tana French's style, Richie is a complex being, not always willing to conform to Mick's plan.
Then there's Dina, Mick's sister, perhaps in her late twenties. She drifts in and out of psychotic states characterized by self-destructive behavior. Dina is given to tantrums of the sort thrown by preschoolers. She is incredibly demanding and mean-spirited. She chooses to bother Mick with her problems, although she knows he is in the midst of a crucial investigation that is exhausting him. For various reasons, well-examined by author French, Mick is usually the only one available to help Dina.
Throw in a man who is obsessed with Jenny and envies every moment of happiness that Pat has with her. There is also a phantom creature that invades the Spain home.
There are several other characters, all richly developed. (French could probably craft a great novel about the despicable neighbors, the Gogans.)
French is a master wordsmith with a profound grasp of human nature.
108 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
If you have not read Tana French's previous works, you will probably like Broken Harbor. If you have read her previous works, this one pales in comparison.
I love Tana French's previous novels and have been waiting for this one for close to a year. I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. I think she spent far too much time describing crime scenes, autopsies, and the like which caused her to stray from what she does best: developing complex characteries and providing amazing descriptions of their psychological makeup. Ms. French did well with the character of Scorcher but his background, current family issues, and just about everything relating to the psychology of the victims just doesn't fit with any kind of psychological truth (which she so flawlessly developed in her earlier novels).
As an avid reader as well as a clinical and forensic psychologist, I have nothing but praise for Ms. French's other novels. I can honestly say that she is the finest creator of a character's psychology ever. Hands down. No contest. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading her other novels, do yourself a favor and get them now! Those characters, particularly Cassie from The Likeness and Rob from In The Woods, have stuck with me in a way that no other character has done before. I am hoping/praying/crossing fingers that French's future works return to either of these characters.
83 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
After more than 6 months filled with disappointments that came like blows from my favorite authors (Bitterblue, Holier Than Thou, Gone Girl, The Calling), I thought I couldn't count on any of my precious to deliver the goods. Apparently, I can still rely on Tana French to keep up her standards. Broken Harbor is not maybe my favorite novel of hers (I think Faithful Place is), but definitely not weaker than any of her previous works.
All her books are psychological thrillers, not fast-paced, not action-packed, but slow-moving and interrogation-heavy, and Broken Harbor sticks to the same format. At first, I intended to say it was possibly the "most psychological" out of her psychological thrillers, and the most crazy-driven. However, if I look back, all her novels without fail explore the depths of human mind, power of memories and their effect on investigative work, and involve mentally unstable characters.
Like detectives in all previous books in Dublin Murder Squad series, the chief investigator Mick (Scorcher) Kennedy is full of mental baggage of his own (who doesn't have it though?). I have only the vaguest memory of him from Faithful Place, so he is almost a completely new personality to get to know within the framework of this series. Behind Scorcher's unwavering, never-failing, upright cop facade, there is a lot of tension and a lot of self-control that come only to people who have battled through serious life challenges and learned to cope by keeping themselves tightly guarded and emotionally removed. Even though Scorcher has dealt with most of his childhood traumas, he is not free of them. His half-mad, volatile sister is a constant reminder of past dealings with mental illness and a disturber of his peace.
When Scorcher dives into investigation of the assault of the Spain family, French, as you would expect, pushes him into facing the darkest corners of his memory. Gradually learning of the economical and psychological demise of the Spains, Kennedy finds it hard to watch the parallels between the Spains' and his own family's stories. Will he be able to keep his cool and stay objective, not let his personal feelings influence the investigation? You'll just have to read and see.
The murderer in this case is fairly obvious and pretty early in the book, I would say. The pool of suspects is just too small. But the pleasure of unpacking this novel is not exactly in knowing who, but why and how. This is where the leisurely pace and lengthy interrogations work the best - you have an opportunity to get into all the suspects' minds, and what's inside is not pretty - psyches ravaged by strains of financial hardship, instability, uncertainty and, surprise! online bullying (of sorts). How current!
It is interesting that Broken Harbor has a very similar setting as Gone Girl - a well-to-do family loses financial security, and almost immediately loses its integrity, both material and psychological. But where Flynn's characters annoyed me with their, what I perceived, self-entitled whining, French's characters made me live through their difficulties as if they were my own.
I know, this review is kind of vague, I tiptoe around the subject a lot, trying not to spoil the reveals, but just know this - Broken Harbor is a story a picture-perfect family that crumbles under the weight of money problems and a desire to save public face at all cost. And this story is horrifying and sad.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2013
SPOILER ALERT couldn't put this book down but when i finished it, i have to agree that long boring parts impeded an otherwise compelling read -- should have cut this book by half -- so much repetition. also, the truth behind the murders was simply not believable -- the mysterious "animal" as a symbol for the "heart of darkness" or craziness finally destroying this entire family as well as kennedy's family earlier and ongoing was totally overplayed -- ridiculous. a shame because seems like a talented writer who got carried away with excess and needed a good ruthless editor. too many people turn out to be crazy and suicidal -- is life in ireland that awful? curran's motivation was pretty feeble too -- his single irresponsible and, i felt, arrogant choice to withhold evidence was pivotal in finally ruining his and kennedy's career -- doesn't make sense. book ultimately depressing without any redeeming note at the end except of course for the "love" between dina (a real pain in the butt) and mick -- in bed together at the end? -- weird. don't recommend -- will never get back all those hours. too many other good things to read.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This book made me mad.
Ostensibly a psychological thriller that follows dreamers of all types as they slowly watch their dreams go up in flames, which leads to out-of-character responses to the destruction, this book instead is Exhibit A for an author manipulating readers to meet an agenda rather than telling a story.
The Spains are a young couple in love. They long to be productive members of society and live the American Dream (even in Ireland), so they purchase a McMansion by the sea in a planned community in an area once known as Broken Harbor (before the marketers renamed it). The Irish recession of the late 2000s hits, the husband/father Pat loses his job in a downsizing, the planned community dies mid-construction, and the wheels start coming off of life. Wife/mother Jenny witnesses her high school sweetheart obsess over some creature lurking in the attic and walls of their already deteriorating house. Idyll becomes nightmare. Soon, something or someone preys on the unfortunate Spains, and most of them end up dead.
Enter by-the-rules Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and new Murder D recruit Richie Curran. Scorcher has his own demons lurking in Broken Harbor. He even has a mentally ill sister who reminds him of his own dreams in flames. (Heck, everyone in Ireland seems mentally ill by the time this novel concludes.) Will Mick and his rookie partner solve this mysterious case? Will they find a satisfying reason for all the holes in the walls of the Spain house? And what about the voyeur who lives and dies by the family's every move? Who is lying? Who isn't?
By the time I finished the last page of _Broken Harbor_, that's how I felt. Who cares? Normally, I write pros and cons about a book. I'll cut to the chase here. Author Tana French can obviously write, but this book is not one she should put on her C.V.
The storyline in _Broken Harbor_ can be summed up in one sentence. And that's a problem. French writes good characterizations, but there must be more to a novel billed as a thriller than simply the angst of characters splayed out for everyone to see. There must be a destination for the readers. Or at least a ride there.
There isn't one of either in this novel.
What we get instead is a glacially paced skimfest that considers repetition and meandering monologues a psychological examination. The book does have its moments, but then it turns out those moments are author manipulations.
_Broken Harbor_ is built on some premises that must be believed to make the story work. But rather than have those premises guide the story along, author French manipulates readers. Twists and tricks are fine in a novel, but if you build your entire book around them and then yank them away with an "oops, not reality," you better not have repeatedly sold them as reality.
I can buy that the Spains melt down. What I can't stomach is French telling readers that the meltdown is caused by an unreality that is so real it has physical proof--except the physical proof isn't real either. I've encountered delusional people. They don't do what French insists they do. They don't manufacture physical proof of their delusions. That's the reality of delusions: They don't have any basis in reality.
When you base your novel on a trick and then tell readers later that you've been lying to them about that trick, that's not storytelling. That's manipulation. And French doesn't just do it with the mysterious "animal" in the Spain's attic. She succumbs to it in other places in her novel.
An unreliable narrator, when skillfully handled, is a great means by which an author can lie to readers. The lie comes from the character. But when the author herself lies to the reader, that's an egregious mistake, and I won't support any author who does what French did in _Broken Harbor_. Fool me yes, but don't yank away everything that undergirds your book and say, "Just kidding."
Lastly, I'll get on my editing soapbox: This is a 275-page story told in 450 pages of small print. I don't know how any reader can resist skimming the latter half of the book. That's another sign that something is very wrong with this novel. There simply is not enough story to support the length. The surprises aren't there. And once readers realize that all the excess crammed into this book is there to support manipulations, they'll feel even more cheated.
This is my first Tana French book. The dustjacket summary pulled me in. Sadly, I could have saved a lot of time by reading the dustjacket and moving on.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I am an avid, HUGE Tana French fan, loved and bought all of her previous books the moment they hit shelves, but - this story is TERRIBLE. Unlikeable characters, boring, uneventful plot. Took me weeks to get though and typically I sail through her stories in 2 days...If she interests you as an author, read Faithful Place and Into The Woods. Fingers crossed her next novel is back to her usual excellence.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2013
Format: Audible Audio Edition
Broken Harbour. Digested read.
Wading across the blood-drenched crime scene, I leaned into Richie's face. "You're the rookie, so listen up - the simplest answer is usually the right one. There you go, case closed "
"But Sur" he cried in his thin, inner-City Dublin knacker's accent "we have 450 pages to fill !"
His words hit me hard in the stomach, almost doubling me over, the sharp consonants cutting strips of flesh off my body and hurtling them, spinning and writhing in to the grey darkness of the Irish Sea. I don't take advice from first-case, wet behind the ears rookies - but sometimes .... Jaysus he was right. I ..had .. to ..think.
"The computer - there's bound to be loads of the vics blogs on there - we can quote them word for word ! That's 20 pages surely ! "
"And we can throw in buckets of stuff about passwords and Internet security and deleting histories and have an IT geek with mad hair who listens to mad music " said Ritchie, rising to the challenge, " .... and about me being a knacker an all, with cousins who rob cars - sure there's loads in dat. And what about your mad sister ? "
The room spun. The floor dropped away beneath me. I struggled to keep my hold on reality, to keep myself from falling into that yawning pit of hopelessness and despair, to gather all my strength once more to fight and refight that nameless, shapeless, heartless foe that had stalked my days these twenty years. I grabbed at the tabletop, my fingers gyrating wildly in the congealed blood that coated its tortured surface. "Never.. mention.. my.. family " I whispered, my words just audible over the malevolent hum of the house, its walls crowding in on us like the howling mob at a Roman arena.
Richie paled. And deep within him, deep beneath semi-starved dirty-grey features, features hewn by the legacy of genes tortured and corrupted by generations of hunger and abuse, I could see that he raged. Raged at me, raged at my middle-class pretensions, raged at the system that always put me and my kind in charge.
"Right boss" he said, finally regaining control. He looked out of the big window, at the skeletons of half-built, half-derelict houses, the remnants of a nation's and a people's vain hopes of betterment, and turned slowly towards me. "How about if ALL the women are mad, constantly spiralling out of control, going ape-shit for no reason at all, loosin the plot like every time we ask them a question, with high-pitched, whiney voices mounting to a scream ."
"Good work ...detective. That'll do it." My heart pounded in my chest, as if its pulsing contents wished to burst out of my chest to join its cellular mates on the floor in front of me. I had almost called him Partner. After.. just.. ten.. minutes. This couldn't be happening. This shouldn't be happening. This was all wrong !!!!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2012
When I finally got to the big confession scene, it took me over a week to finish it. I'd simply get bored in the middle and put the book down. This was the "big, shocking reveal" only it wasn't remotely big or even slightly shocking. It was just really really really long.
Scorcher was a terrible lead character. He was also a really terrible detective. He jumps to conclusion after conclusion then is a bitchy teenage girl to his partner when challenged. He humors Curran and reeks of smugness only to be wrong over and over again. Scorcher is humorless and uninteresting. We also have to suffer through endless scenes with Scorcher NOT losing his temper. I kept thinking "Congrats on being robotic and wrong again."
The killer was obvious, mostly because the author hung a big sign around the killer's neck saying "I can't be the killer. Look at that red herring over there instead!" It was weak writing.
Curran was the only interesting and likable character. My money is on him as the lead for the next book.
30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was so looking forward to this book. I had heard about it and could not wait to read another French book. Sure, I wasn't too thrilled it was going to be about Kennedy, one of the detectives from Faithful Place, but I love French's work. Another reviewer mentioned "ponderous", I agree.
While the set up was great, a brutally murdered family who seems on the surface perfect, the rest of the story mostly fell flat. The problems for me were: The bulldog detective, Mick Kennedy, lets slide his feeling that Detective Curran is hiding something important? Not believable to me. The totally annoying sister Dina. There was something off about this characterization. I still can't put my finger on it. And finally, the most, I don't know how to describe this, silly, I guess, Mick decides to throw his career away with some ridiculous cooked up planting of evidence with the killer's sister? And this 'destroys', I guess, his huge ego so much that he quits his job? I don't know. I could go on and on about the far out story lines in this novel.