“Broken Harbor” by Tana French / Viking, 450 pages
The setting of Tana French’s brooding new novel, “Broken Harbor” is currently a familiar one: Brianstown, a half-built, half-abandoned luxury development sparsely populated with squatters and disappointed families. It’s the coast of Ireland, but it could pass for most American cities, with rows of mainly deserted cookie cutter houses passing as homes. Like French’s previous mysteries, “In the Woods,” “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place” (all comprising the Dublin Murder Squad series), setting is everything. Location is painstakingly detailed, and is a central character. It forms the people populating her stories, and more often than not, it scars them. Before development’s delusion of grandeur, Brianstown was known as Broken Harbor, a place homicide detective Mick Kennedy (Scorcher from “Faithful Place”) had sealed off in bad memories, and tried to escape.
Murder brings Mick back to Broken Harbor/Brianstown, where a sign reads ‘Welcome to Ocean View, Brianstown. A new revelation in premier living. Luxury houses now viewing!’, Mick’s rookie partner Richie describes it as “the village of the damned”. Mick and Richie are still figuring one another out, when they respond to a hysterical 911 call and discover Patrick Spain and his two children are dead, murdered. Spain’s wife, Jenny is severely injured and in intensive care, unable to talk about the crime.
Questions arise about Brianstown: the few remaining residents have reported intruders, houses are being squatted and vandalized, how well did anyone know the Spain family? Questions arise about the Spains: Why was their home computer erased, and what was Patrick discussing on internet chatrooms? Why are there holes in the walls of the house, and why are there cameras pointed at the holes? Why so many baby monitors around the house? Who is the man Jenny told her sister about, who was slipping past their locks? Within the murder mystery, French adds tension by slowly revealing the hidden details of the Spain’s marriage, and financial crisis, and the personal turmoil between Mick and his unstable sister, Dina, about what happened to them as children at Broken Harbor.
Once again, French presents a very human mystery that forces you to imagine the worst case scenarios, by keeping you gripped without red herrings or cop outs in character. “Broken Harbor” is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad series, and I highly recommend it for fans of literary crime thrillers, specifically fans of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie-Gennaro series, and Benjamin Black’s Quirke series. “Broken Harbor” works great as a stand-alone psychological mystery, but even better if you’ve read the series. Like Gillian Flynn, and Megan Abbott, French writes intense and believable fiction disguised as a police procedural. “Broken Harbor” contains grim thrills, sharp pacing, and atmospheric wonder. I couldn’t guess who killed the Spains or why anyone would want to, but when French fills in the whys of the story, they don’t come out of the blue, and the biggest scare is realizing what you knew the entire time.