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Broken Harbor Hardcover – July 24, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: In Tana French’s fourth novel, detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and his partner are sent to the abandoned, half-constructed housing development Broken Harbor to investigate the brutal murder of the Spain family. What Scorcher thinks is an open and shut case is quickly complicated when Jenny Spain is found barely alive, and the family’s circumstances are brought to light: hidden baby monitors, a strained mortgage brought on by the housing crisis, and the increasingly erratic signs of a family in crisis. French fans will appreciate this new look at Scorcher, who was a minor character in Faithful Place; he shines as the successful but jaded detective with a troubled past. French delivers a layered psychological thriller and satisfying ‘who dunnit,’ masterfully spinning a plot packed with tension and a haunting mood that rivals the best of the gothic writers. --Heather Dileepan
"One of the most talented crime writers alive."
— The Washington Post
“Ms. French created haunting, damaged characters who have been hit hard by some cataclysm . . . This may sound like a routine police procedural. But like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, this summer’s other dagger-sharp display of mind games, Broken Harbor is something more.”
— Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“So much of the pleasure inherent in reading these novels is in trying to figure out where things are going and being constantly surprised, not to mention thoroughly spooked. I predict Broken Harbor will be on more than one Best of 2012 lists — it’s definitely at the top of mine.”
— The Associated Press
"Broken Harbor is truly a book for, and of, our broken times. It's literature masquerading as a police procedural."
— The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“French has that procedural pro's knack for making mundane police work seem fascinating. And she's drawn not just to the who but also to the why — those bigger mysteries about the human weaknesses that drive somebody to such inhuman brutality. What really gives Broken Harbor its nerve-rattling force is her [French’s] exploration of events leading up to the murders, rendered just as vividly as the detectives' scramble to solve them."
— Entertainment Weekly, A- rating
“These four novels have instated Ms. French as one of crime fiction’s reigning grand dames — a Celtic tigress . . . It’s not the fashion in literary fiction these days to address such things as the psychological devastation that a fallout of the middle class can wreak on those who have never known anything else, and Ms. French does it with aplomb — and a headless sparrow and dozens of infrared baby monitors."
— The Washington Times
“The fourth book in Tana French’s brilliant, genre-busting series about the (fictitious) Dublin Murder Squad . . . Invoking atmosphere is one of French’s particular gifts, and in this department, Broken Harbor (the name of the town before the developers got hold of it) is a tour de force.”
— Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Ms. French has come to be regarded as one of the most distinct and exciting new voices in crime writing. She constructs her plots in a dreamlike, meandering fashion that seems at odds with genre's fixed narrative conventions. Sometimes, it's not even clear whodunit. Her novels have been translated into 31 languages, with 1.5 million copies in print . . . Broken Harbor has the hallmarks of a standard police procedural: a cocky homicide detective with a troubled past who educates his younger partner with pat lessons; a shocking crime that seems to defy explanation; a heart-stopping twist at the end. But Ms. French undercuts expectations at every turn. The victims begin to look less like victims; the case starts to unravel and the lead detective makes compromises that could ruin him.”
— The Wall Street Journal
“Both the characters and the crime command attention, page by page.”
— New York Daily News
“French's flair for setting and its influence on characters, as well as her elegant prose, shine in Broken Harbor. The emptiness of Brianstown becomes the modern equivalent of the spooky mansion, complete with things that go bump in the night . . . French expertly shows the importance of connecting with each other, and how fragile those bonds can be.”
— South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Salon.com’s Laura Miller has this advice for anyone who has not yet read EVERY Tana French novel, 'Just go out and get them right now.'”
— NPR's Weekend Edition
“Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, all fun.”
— People ("Great Summer Reads")
“French’s eloquently slow-burning fourth Dublin murder squad novel shows her at the top of her game . . . As usual, French excels at drawing out complex character dynamics.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Each of French’s novels (Faithful Place, 2010) offers wonderfully complex and fully realized characters . . . French has never been less than very good, but Broken Harbor is a spellbinder.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“A mystery that is perfectly in tune with the times . . . [French] continues to distinguish herself with this fourth novel, marked by psychological acuteness and thematic depth . . . There are complications, deliberations and a riveting resolution.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The story takes place mostly in Brianstown, a housing development that sprang up during Ireland’s housing bubble but was left incomplete when the bubble burst. Now there are just a few families bravely living there, mired by underwater mortgages, surrounded by ghostly half-built houses. One of those families—a seemingly perfect young couple with two lovely children—has been viciously attached. The two children and their father are dead. Their mother is in hospital, unconscious.
Brianstown used to be called Broken Harbor. “Broken” is from the Gaelic word for dawn, but it could also describe our protagonist. Broken Harbor was where he and his family vacationed every summer when he was a child. A place of happy memories, it was the only place where his chronically depressed mother was reliably happy. But it’s also the place where she committed suicide.
The book gets off to a slow start, but at some point I had a hard time putting it down. About halfway through to book, the detectives have a suspect in hand, but they are still uncertain of his guilt. They spend the rest of the book sifting through clues, letting the reader in on their thought process. The solution they eventually hit on is so contrived and implausible that I put the book down in disgust. But I took it up again, drawn by Kennedy’s story. He finally reveals why he feels responsible for his mother’s death. That part of the story made sense.
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.