Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

A bit about the book: An entire family is murdered in their Brianstown home near the sea, and Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy is on the case. After appearing in Tana French's previous novel Faithful Place, Kennedy becomes the main focus of French's newest novel Broken Harbor. This pattern of connecting her novels will be familiar to French's readers. In each novel, beginning with In the Woods, French takes a minor character and transforms him or her into a main character in a subsequent novel.

As with French's previous novels, Broken Harbor is a multi-layered work. One layer is the investigation of the Spain family's deaths. Kennedy and first-time investigator Richie work the case methodically, pairing their detective work with the medical examiner's findings and the team of crime scene technicians' work. They try on first one theory and then another as their information changes.

On a deeper level is the character analysis French provides for Scorcher Kennedy. Always a straight arrow in the Murder Squad unit, he plays strictly by the rules. As a result, he is often the object of ridicule for other investigators. Because he finds partnering with other detectives difficult, Kennedy ends up as the trainer for new recruits; thus, his pairing with rookie Richie. He prefers this somewhat solitary life, and French slowly reveals the secrets about Kennedy's past and present that shape him.

Why you want to read it: Apart from the plot (which is cleverly crafted and engrossing) and the characterization (which is flawless), the thing Tana French does the best in her novels, including Broken Harbor, is describe the setting. She discussed the sense of place in her writing in an interview with Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact, after her third novel Faithful Place was published:
I was an international brat, grew up in three continents, so there’s nowhere I can really call ‘home’; but Dublin’s the nearest I’ve got. I’ve lived here since 1990; it’s the only city where I know all the details and quirks – the connotations of every accent and area, the slang and the sense of humour, where to go for a good pint and where not to go after dark. And I can list all the ways in which it’s crap, while being ready to leap to its defence if anyone from anywhere else suggests it might not be perfect. In a lot of ways, 'Faithful Place' is a love song to Dublin – its bad sides as well as its good ones.
She perfects her writing of Dublin's "details and quirks" in Broken Harbor. After focusing on the tenements of Dublin in Faithful Place, she switches to an entirely different (yet still dark) place in Broken Harbor. Brianstown, the setting for much of the novel, is a small area outside Dublin once called Broken Harbor. During an upswing in the economy, a building boom created what French now terms as "ghost estates" all over the outskirts of Dublin. Subdivisions filled with cheaply-built, fancy-looking houses dot the countryside, including Brianstown.

Few families still live on its mostly-deserted streets, and many houses were never finished because they lacked buyers. What remains is a creepy, ghost town with people struggling to make their mortgages. It is here that the Spain family meets their end, and here where French's Murder Squad detectives try to make sense of the crime.

The bottom line: No one writes about Dublin, Ireland, as well as Tana French. Few people write police procedurals as well as Tana French. And even fewer people are able to delve into a character's soul like French does in her novels. Mystery/thrillers are probably my favorite genre -- I'd say close to half the books I read fit into that mold -- and French is simply one of the best. Scorcher Kennedy and his demons are a perfect addition to the fictional world French is creating through her novels.

About the author: Tana French is the author of three previous novels, all connected to the Dublin Murder Squad. The first, In the Woods, was the winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Subsequent titles have been 2008's The Likeness, which featured one of the main characters from In the Woods; 2010's Faithful Place, which focused on a character from The Likeness; and finally this year's Broken Harbor, which takes a character from Faithful Place and makes him the star. While interconnected, each novel also works as a standalone title for those unfamiliar with French's previous work. For more information about the author and her writing, you can visit French's website.


  1. Sounds like one I'll be reading soon; great review.

    1. Diane, it is fabulous. I hope my strong feelings showed in the review. Thank you!

  2. Love your blog....great content.

    Great header too.


    Silver's Reviews

    1. Thanks so much! I have been falling down a bit on the reviews lately, but school starting always slows me down on the blog. Keep coming back -- I promise I am reading, and that I will be writing about those books soon!

  3. Tana French has been on my 'to read' list for ages. Now the question is whether to start here or with In the Woods.

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