Message in a Bottle
Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken HarborAs 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.


Reading in 2012

Best of 2011As 2011 comes to an end, it’s a good time to lay out some new annual reading goals. What I’d like to do is finally start writing down every book I read, so at the end of the year I can look back and remember my annual literary life. I’ve been meaning to start that list forever and it just keeps getting away from me. Can you remember every book you read in 2011? I know I can’t, and that’s frustrating because I read about a book or two a week. I remember my narrow list of favorites at least, so maybe that’s enough (Before I Go to Sleep, The Paris Wife, 22 Brittania Road, and Sister spring to mind).

Disclaimer: Considering that I’m partial to thrillers and fiction, take my personal list with a grain of salt. If you want the stellar collaborative Island Books list, go here.

That said, it’s time to close the 2011 chapter and move on to 2012. And wouldn’t you know, just as I started researching what’s coming out next year so I could plan my must-read list, I received an email from one of my favorite publishing insiders who happens to know my taste a little too well. He said, “I’m thinking I have a galley for you which you will want to be the first book you read in 2012.”  Somehow I just knew what he meant and let me just say, thanks for the best holiday gift ever, you-know-who. Pretty soon I’m going to get my hands on an advanced copy of Broken Harbor by Tana French, and I hope no one expects to hear from me until I finish reading it. The pub date isn’t until the end of July, so I know I’m getting way ahead of myself. There’s no cover or book description available, so why, you ask, am I already blogging about it?

Faithful PlaceThere are three reasons: Faithful Place, The Likeness, and In the Woods. Over the last few years, Tana French’s work has become hard to surpass on the psychological thriller shelf. Her writing is as intelligent and crafted as the finest fiction and her plot twists are masterful and thought-provoking. It’s incredibly rare to find a thriller that succeeds on both fronts. To say I’m a fan would be an understatement. Not only does French manage to make all of her troubled Irish characters three-dimensional, she links her novels together by making a supporting character in one the protagonist of the next. Her books imprint themselves so deeply on my brain that I can still talk passionately about them years after I read them. She keeps a plenitude of secrets up her sleeve while she makes readers hopelessly invested in the emotional lives of her characters, then masterfully drops a bombshell that turns a novel on its head. Another reason I like Tana French? Each book gets better than the last.

I’m already checking my mail for that advanced copy of Broken Harbor, and to be reasonable, I’ll keep my expectations in check. Look for my review sometime before it comes out next summer, and in the meantime, if you haven’t read French’s first three books, by all means get on it.


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