Who would have thought a book about the economic downturn and the crushing housing crisis that we're all living with at the moment would end up being such an engaging read. In Tana French's capable hands Broken Harbor turned out to be perfect summer, actually pre-vacation, reading. I've been meaning to write about it here for ages, but now I think with so much time having passed it is only going to get a solid mention (depending on how good both my memory and notes are). I checked it out from the library shortly before I went to San Francisco, and with a looming due date as well as departure date, I had no choice but to squeeze the reading in in the week before I left. Unsurprisingly it wasn't much of a hardship.
This is French's fourth novel and I've all but inhaled the lot of them. If you've read her you'll know that the books are only loosely connected. You don't have to read them in any particular order, and lack of any prior knowledge of the previous stories or characters won't lessen your appreciation of a later book. She does 'recycle' characters. A minor character in one book might well be the main protagonist of the next. In this case Mick Kennedy, otherwise known as 'Scorcher', is the lead detective in the murder of three members of a young family.
Tana French's novels are less who-dunnits than why-dunnits, though the crime aspect and the puzzling out of the solution by the detectives is always well done. Sometimes the endings are even sort of shockers, but she seems more interested in the psychology behind it all than anything else. And not just the why of the crime. Almost always the detectives are just as flawed as those caught up in immoral and illegal dealings. Often the detective assigned to the case will have some connection to the victim or the crime scene, but then Dublin isn't such a big city really, so why not.
So, Scorcher Kennedy--he's sort of a brown-noser. He wasn't my favorite character last time out, so I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy him being stage center. The thing is, though, sometimes it doesn't matter whether you necessarily like a character, it's what an author does with the story and him in the lead that matters. Scorcher does things by the book, and his careful attention to detail is what has made him the top detective. As a matter of fact, all his cases are solves, so he's closed on all of them. And he has every intention of doing the same on this one. A young rookie cop, Richie Curran, is assigned as his partner. What he lacks in experience he makes up in in enthusiasm. And Scorcher doesn't mind sharing his knowledge or lending guidance, but the two don't always agree. Richie turns out to be the perfect foil to Scorcher, and the play off the two characters creates just the right tension and allows for the perfect twist at the end.
The crime is particularly heinous as it involves the murder, and in one case attempted murder, of a family living in the once touted and luxurious Brianstown. During the boom years when the economy was soaring and building flourishing Brianstown, a once ramshackle area on the coast, was the place for young up-and-coming families to be. The Spain family bought into it anyway. Jenny and Pat were the golden, happy couple. Two beautiful children, a new home, the right kind of car and clothes. They were living the yuppie dream.
Scorcher isn't unfamiliar with Brianstown. But when he knew it, it was shabbier and not so hopeful. He has childhood memories of the area, but they aren't especially happy ones. When he arrives at the crime scene he finds Pat and the two children dead, and Jenny almost as far gone. The shiny exterior of Brianstown and of the Spain family begins to show tiny cracks the longer they're scrutinized. Most of the homes are either unfinished or sitting vacant. Scorcher begins to wonder why anyone would even want to live there being just a little too far from town to be convenient and too close for it to be a country home. Those who do live there are likely simply stuck with no other viable option to get out and move elsewhere.
And the Spains, for all their nice clothes and beautiful furnishings have secrets, too. The closer Scorcher looks the more things don't add up. There are holes in the walls and more baby-monitors than two small children would warrant. Their expensive vehicle couldn't be paid for and their bank accounts are empty. It's obvious they were living outside their means. But something else was going on. Something that makes the detectives question Pat's very sanity. But he and the children are dead and Jenny is alive, and there are signs that the family was being spied upon. An empty house across the way is the perfect vantage point for someone to watch and wait.
Well, I've remembered far more than I thought (I could even go on but this has gotten long enough--just shows how layered and complex her stories are). Although this isn't my favorite of French's novels (I think that would have to be The Likeness), I quite enjoyed Broken Harbor. My only quibble with the story is that she did go on about the baby monitors and holes in the house (not to give details away for those who've not read it, but those who have will likely know just what I mean). I'm sure she did this to ratchet up the tension and show the increasing isolation the family felt out in the housing complex nearly all alone. Of course it could be, too, that I was just anxious to leave for my vacation and was worried about getting the book back to the library on time.
In any case Tana French is an author whose books I will always get in line for. She's dependably good and I look forward to seeing whose story the next book will belong to! (In case you're curious, I've also written about In the Woods, and Faithful Place).