As promised in a post six months ago, it’s time to review Tana French’s new thriller, Broken Harbor. The July 24th pub date is fast approaching, and there’s already a video clip out of the author talking about her book.
Broken Harbor is French’s fourth effort, after In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. Her books are character-driven and feature flawed and compelling though not necessarily likeable protagonists. With each new book, French brings a new detective to the forefront, always a character who lurked in the background in the preceding novel. In Broken Harbor, the spotlight is on Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the jerky and by-the-book-only cop who tried to keep Frank away from the investigation in Faithful Place.
The recession, the property developers, the real estate promoters, and the banks are invisible yet present villains in this timely story. Kennedy’s big case calls him out to Broken Harbor, one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments scattered across Ireland, where Patrick Spain and his two young children are found dead. Spain’s wife, Jenny, is the only survivor, but she’s hanging on by a thread in intensive care. The Spains had fallen into the trap of the property boom and the dream of idyllic suburban life, and instead found they had spent ten times their income to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a never-to-be-finished development. Developers ran out of the money, the neighborhood remained unfinished and unpopulated, and Pat Spain lost his job. But what could have gone so completely wrong out there that led to murder?
The murders at the Spain house are only part of the story. Detective Kennedy has a past of his own in Broken Harbor. He’s dealing with a mentally ill sister whose childhood memories of Broken Harbor resurface when she learns her brother is on the case. His naive rookie sidekick, Richie, thinks the murders should be easy to solve. But there are too many holes in the obvious assumption that Pat Spain was responsible. Weird things were happening at the house: holes smashed in the walls, files missing off the computer, and a stalker who has been spying on the family.
One of French’s favorite plot devices is inadmissible evidence, and she uses it here in an utterly heartbreaking way that puts the flaws of the main detectives on full and painful display. One of Kennedy’s main characteristics is his by-the-rules approach, so what’s a guy like that to do when truth and justice are at odds with the law?
I liked Broken Harbor and remain as steadfast an admirer of Tana French as ever. If this is the first novel of hers that you read, you’ll be impressed. She’s a one-of-a-kind storyteller, truly in a league of her own. If, however, you’ve read her other books, you might share my nagging sentiment that she can do better. Faithful Place set the bar particularly high. You won’t go wrong reading Broken Harbor this summer if you want to read her newest, but for the best of Tana French, I’d send you to her backlist.