Broken Harbor:A Novel by Tana French
Viking, ISBN 978-0670023653
July 24, 2012, 464 pages
“Murder is chaos...We stand against that, for order...What I do is what the first men did. They built walls to keep back the sea. They fought the wolves for the hearth fire.”That is how Dublin Homicide Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy sees his job, his very identity, as someone holding back the chaos. That is what he is trying to pass along to his new homicide trainee, Richie.
And chaos they will soon face and he will be very hard pressed to succeed at keeping it from taking over this time.
They are called to a multiple murder, the whole Spain family, dead in their home. Well, almost.
The two young children, a boy and girl, are dead in their beds, their father, covered in blood, dead on the kitchen floor. Only the mother survives, barely, stabbed multiple times and curled up in her husband's arms. And almost as creepy as the murder scene is the setting, their home. It was to be part of a beautiful new development, with a view of the harbor overlooking the Irish Sea, when Ireland was in the midst of a booming economy. Now, when property values have collapsed, it is a virtual ghost town. A few finished homes in the middle of half built houses and abandoned construction rubble, the dark streets prowled by gangs of kids at night, miles and miles from a pub, a store, miles from anything.
And then there are the holes broken into the wall, all over the house, the door to the attic covered with wire mesh, baby monitors set up to watch the hallways and smashed holes, the huge foot hold trap in the attic.
What exactly was going on in this house?
If this was just a police procedural, solving a murder, it would be interesting and well done. But in the hands of French, this is much more, It is a fascinating psychological thriller with a number of sub-plots, each interesting, all feeding into the main plot very nicely. Our narrator, Scorcher, is, of course, troubled and flawed..and a very clever detective. He has his own history with Broken Harbor, back when he was a kid and it was the site of a summer caravan camp where his family vacationed. Something terrible happened here one year, something that will all be dredged up by his return to this place. We may think we understand fairly early in the book what went on. But we will be wrong, we realize, when the tale takes a whole different twist at the very end, a surprising, satisfying end to the book.
This is a story about a dream world in a state of collapse, about failure and disappointment, about madness that was barely kept at bay by the order of a happy, successful life but now is on the verge of spinning off into chaos, taking victims, innocent and not so innocent. About half way through the book, it seems as if the murderer has been caught, but of course, with all those pages left, we know there has to be more to this story. Indeed there is!
French is a beautiful writer, her descriptions, her turn of a phrase, taking this book to a whole new level from your average mystery. Her characters, one and all, are excellent, the relationships real and believable and at time heart breaking. Scorcher and his young apprentice start with a nice father/son relationship..and we just know that something is going to go very wrong. As it does, part of nightmare that becomes all too real.
The Irish Independent newspaper has called Tana French "the First Lady of Irish Crime”and I think Broken Harbor will make it clear why that accolade is true.