Broken Harbor by Tana French

7th August 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Viking Books in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing we ever did, when we started turning into humans, was draw a line across the cave door and say: “Wild stays out.” 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.

Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy likes order. It’s his job, but it’s also his life. The second he walks into the Spain residence, he realizes the safe, ordered existence was violated by something wild, and it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. A development with only a handful of completed houses, Brianstown was left in the middle of construction, unconnected pipes poking up from the ground, skeletal frames fighting the sea air to stand up, construction machinery tipping over on mounds of dirt. Adjacent to the sea, Brianstown used to be Broken Harbor, a vacation spot for Dubliners, and Kennedy has his own bit of history in the forsaken spot. Now it’s the scene of a heinous crime – a family of four attacked in the middle of the night. The children, Emma and Jack, lie peacefully in their beds, covers drawn up over still chests. In the kitchen, Pat Spain lies in his own blood and that of his wife, Jenny, who is unconscious in a hospital bed.

Lights on, alarm set, and doors locked, the Spain residence seems impenetrable, leaving Kennedy and his rookie partner, Richie, to think the worst. Pat Spain was out of work, the family was broke, any man would break under the pressure. But the weapon is gone, and the computer has been wiped. Plus, Jenny has told her sister Fiona about innocuous but unsettling break-ins. Combined with the holes in the walls scattered throughout the otherwise orderly Spain house, Kennedy knows some evil has settled in this house – the only question is, from where?

The second Mick describes the hairs on the back of his neck rising, Broken Harbor distinguishes itself from other crime fiction in its realistic exploration of the psyche. Something is broken in the Spain’s world, and the more Mick and Richie search, the more they glimpse the madness of it all. The holes in the wall, the obsessiveness of them, was disturbing and became more so as the reasons for them were slowly revealed, until I was questioning myself as well as the Spains. Was there an animal in the wall? Or was someone playing tricks on the Spains?

Using the unsettling backdrop of an unsettling economy, Tana French has, with Broken Harbor, penned one of the most interesting and definitely the most solid novel in her Dublin Murder Squad series. Though the original idea of using different bit characters in the previous novel as the focus of the next is unique, the novels after In the Woods were, I thought, mediocre. Kennedy’s story, however, and its focus on obsession and reality is easily the strongest crime fiction novel I’ve read this year. I look forward to the next book in this interesting series.

Check out other opinions or add this to your TBR shelf on Goodreads.

  • I have all of French’s other books and want to read those first, but I’ll definitely be reading this one at some point, too. “Strongest crime fiction of the year” makes me want to read it now. Haha!

    • Yep. And I don’t make comments like that lightly. In fact, I was nervous about putting it in the review, but I think I can stand by it.

  • Did you read her first one? It was ages ago and I’m awful at remembering books. . . but I remembered liking it but being dissatisfied in the end. However, this does sound interesting. The setting of an incomplete “ghost town” of a development sounds like my kind of thing!

    • I did read her first and absolutely loved the writing. I wasn’t pleased with the ending either. But man, this book is awesome.

  • Ti

    I liked In the Woods quite a bit and tried to read the novels that followed it, but gave up on ’em. Glad to know this one does not fall into the “meh” category.

    • Not at all. This one is definitely worth the time.

  • steph_h

    You already know that I agree 100% with you on this one. I was dubious that this one would be that good given that I cared not one jot for Scorcher when I started reading it. But French knows how to reel her readers in, and this one really got under my skin. So spooky and devastating!

    • I feel like all is well in the world when we agree on books, Steph. 🙂 Not sure if you’re in the air or in Tokyo, but I hope your trip is off to a great start!

  • I just heard the NPR review of this yesterday, and she pretty much agreed with you. I’ll have to check this one out!

    • Good to know NPR has such good taste. 😉

      And do check it out. It’s such a fantastic crime novel.