Tuesday, September 11, 2012
REVIEW: Broken Harbor, by Tana French
So as some of you may have noticed, I've been on a crime fiction kick lately. Crime fiction may or may not be a mystery; sometimes you know the killer from page one (sometimes the book is narrated by the killer), and sometimes you have to wait to find out. Sometimes you never find out; sometimes who did it is beside the point. I accepted a pitch to review Broken Harbor because I've long been intrigued by Tana French, a writer of the who-dun-it school set in one of my favorite places, Ireland, and she had a new book out just when I've been getting into the genre. She's also a pretty mainstream author and I thought it would be fun to break out of the small-press world for a bit and try a best-selling author of wide renown.
In modern-day, post-financial-crash Ireland, Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is called to investigate a horrible scene. A family of four is found dead or dying in a seaside home. They live in Brianstown, a housing development in an area that used to be called Broken Harbor. Brianstown promised upscale suburban living for Dublin's rising upper middle class. The development and the family's prospects bloomed and wilted with the now-tanked Irish economy. Dad Pat Spain was an up and comer laid off during the crash; he and his pretty wife Jenny were high school sweethearts, the king and the queen, with a beautiful home and two adorable moppet children until it all went wrong.
French offers the reader a small but tantalizing set of suspects including Jenny's sister, a creepy neighbor kid and a former friend of the couple's turned benign stalker. She spends a lot of time on the details of the investigation including lengthy interviews with suspects and asides to do with Kennedy's mentally ill sister and his family secrets. She also fills the book with a lot of authentic and fun Irish dialogue which I'm sure sounds fabulous on the audio version. My pal Sandy mentioned the audio on her blog You've Gotta Read This and persuaded me to pick this up off the pile. The book's strength is its setting and its use of dialogue to flesh out the various characters, especially the Spains' seedy neighbors.
Overall I liked Broken Harbor. I thought it was a very solid, engaging page-turner and a fun read. It slowed down a little for me after the first half; it's clear from the flap that the person Kennedy thinks is the killer isn't, so after a point I was waiting for him to sort of get on with it and figure it out for real. I'm not sure I'm 100% down with the solution; I get it, but I thought the killer's motive was not entirely convincing. In any case though I think Broken Harbor is an entertaining mystery that fans of French and suspense will enjoy.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.