Author: Tana French
Publication Date: 7/24/12
Blurb: The mesmerizing fourth novel of the Dublin murder squad by New York Times bestselling author Tana French
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.
On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.
At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.
And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.
With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French’s new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet.
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.
Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy has his rules and he has control. Oh sure, his childhood was a bit difficult (is what he’ll tell you), but he got over that. He put in the work – in therapy, rigid vigilance, and in his precious hard-earned control – and it paid off. Now he has the best record on the Dublin Murder Squad. When a high profile case comes in – the murder of two children and their parents in the quiet suburbs – Scorcher is assigned the case. With his rookie partner-in-training Richie, he dives into it with single-minded determination.
“My solve rate is what it is for two reasons: because I work my arse off, and because I keep control. Over situations, over witnesses, over suspects, and most of all, over myself. If you’re good enough at that, you can compensate for just about anything else. If you’re not, Richie, if you lose control, then it doesn’t matter how much of a genius you are: you might as well go home. Forget your tie, forget your interrogation technique, forget all the things we’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks. They’re just symptoms. Get down to the core of it, and every single thing I’ve said to you boils down to control.”
The case appears simple at first, but of course there’s far more to the story. I'm not going to give away any details, because I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Tana French truly got me with this one. For the first time in one of her books, I genuinely had no idea who the murderer was or what happened on the night of the crime until she wanted me to. All I want to say is that, in my opinion, this is the most tense, frightening book she’s ever written. There were a few places where I had to put it down for a while and go hug my family for comfort. And of course, this is Tana French, so a large part of the reason I was so deeply unsettled was because I could relate at least in part to just about everyone here – the victims, the family, even the murderer. But most of all, I related to Scorcher Kennedy. He got under my skin so very much.
In his mind, the world falls into a rigid order – if you play by the rules and do everything right, then you will survive. If you don’t, then you will pay the price. But what if there is no rhyme or reason to this world? What if horrible, unthinkable things can happen to people who do everything right? Everything that he believes about himself rests entirely on his flawless control. So what happens when he loses it? Who is he then?
“All those years of endless excruciating therapy sessions, of staying vigilant over every move and word and thought; I had been sure I was mended, all the breaks healed, all the blood washed away. I knew I had earned my way to safety. I had believed, beyond any doubt, that that meant I was safe.”
He infuriated me with his self-important lectures to Richie, he disturbed me with his unhealthy relationship with his sister, and he surprised me with how viciously pleased I felt at some of his more callous policing tactics. His loss of control felt satisfying and thrilling and terrifying and painful and so very real. This book is another triumph in psychological mystery for Tana French.
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