Book review: Broken Harbour by Tana French

Broken Harbour
by Tana French
Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

Broken Harbour tells the detailed story of a police investigation over the course of a few days. It is a long book, more than 500 pages of smallish type, so the pace is not fast, but the tale is an absorbing one. Events are seen from the perspective of Detective “Scorcher” Kennedy of the Dublin police, a self-perceived tough man. A call has come in about a serious crime – a family has been found dead in their house, seemingly horribly murdered. Kennedy, to his delight, is assigned the case and chooses the rookie detective in the team, Richie Curran, as his partner, partly because Kennedy thinks he can more easily control him and hence the course of the investigation.

Kennedy runs a tight and thorough case, no details of which are spared for the reader as the pathologist and the forensic team do their work. (There is no gratuitousness in these descriptions, however.) The victims lived in a new housing complex at Brianstown, previously known as Broken Harbour, where Kennedy has memories of spending happy family holidays when a child. There is an element of doom to Kennedy’s memories, though, increasing as the detectives’ work continues. Comparisons between Broken Harbour and Brianstown are a constant theme, as the present-day estate has been abandoned half-built, with the few residents stuck with debts greater than the value of their houses; many of them are out of work, and the houses themselves are gradually falling apart. The old Blue Harbour, in contrast, was (in Kennedy’s memories) a warm, human place, if poor.

A dense, slow-paced novel such as this has the space to explore several themes. One of those is the relationship between Kennedy and Curran. Kennedy is a solitary man whose marriage has broken up for a particular reason, and who has no close friends. Curran evolves from a gangly novice into a genuinely insightful partner; the two men exchange theories, and Kennedy finds himself liking his young colleague, giving him plenty of professional encouragement. As well as this pleasing element, Kennedy’s memories of his boyhood past are complemented by his relationship with his two sisters today, again conveyed in moving fashion. There are also plenty of neat vignettes, for example the (mainly telephonic) relationship between Kennedy and the IT specialist who is working on the computer found in the victims’ house.

The truth of what happened in the fateful house becomes clear as evidence is collected and examined, as the few witnesses are questioned, and as Kennedy and Curran home in on a clear suspect. In the last 100 pages, someone behaves totally out of character on two occasions, for reasons merely to do with the plot. Apart from this one disappointment, the author never wavers from a powerful, convincing and tragic account, as the reader eventually comes to realise the full picture of both the present-day tragedy and the tragedy of Kennedy’s past. The author conveys with precision and empathy the thin skin between an apparently successful, optimistic environment (whether at the national level or the emotional, individual level) and the disillusionment and despair of cold reality. At the same time, this is a solid crime novel with some twists in its tail. A highly recommended read, which is enjoyable whether or not one has read the author’s previous books in this very loose series.

I obtained this book free via the Amazon Vine programme.

Broken Harbour has also been reviewed at Shots ezine (Gwen Moffat)

The books in this series, in reading order, can be found at Euro Crime, with links to reviews of the earlier novels. As I mentioned in my review, these novels can be read independently or in sequence, as the “series” is very loosely connected.

About the book at the publisher’s website.

13 thoughts on “Book review: Broken Harbour by Tana French

  1. Another good review of the newest book by one of my favorite authors. Time to hide the credit card and try to wait for it at the library. That will be a Herculean feat.
    Glad that Tana French has written another good book. This one sounds like a must-read. My observations of this author is that she portrays the life of working-class families quite well, especially the deep, hidden emotions that are at play beneath the surface.
    This may not make it to the TBR list at all!

  2. I’ve liked most of French’s books a great deal. I wasn’t so struck on the second one (the female detective going undercover), as it required too much of a suspension of disbelief, and the basic plot seemed to have been done so many times. But I am always totally engrossed by her storytelling.

    • I really did not like that second one (The Likeness) either, Sharon. A double lookalike coincidence and too derivative of Rendell/Vine. I didn’t read her next as a result and was dithering about this one, but I am very glad I read it. It is her best that I’ve read (I liked her debut, In the Woods, apart from the weak ending).

  3. Maxine – It’s so good to hear that you enjoyed this one! I’ve gone up and down with French’s other books although I do think she’s quite talented. This one sounds like an excellent novel, though. One of the things that appeals to me is that she seems to avoid the stereotypical police partnership “traps” that too many authors do not avoid. And the story of those buildings is intriguing.

  4. Pingback: Broken Harbour by Tana French | Petrona Book Reviews archive

  5. I haven’t read any books by this writer although I am aware of her. I quite like the idea of a slower paced book so will put it on my list to read. Thanks.

  6. I’ve read all three of Tana French’s books. All thouroughly enjoyable reads but her last, ‘Fathful Place’ was my least favourite. But I’m a huge crime thriller fan and her debut ‘In The Woods’ is one of my all-time favourite books – sucked me in, right from the beginning and didn’t let go. I’m delighted to hear she has another book, ready and waiting for me to read . . .

  7. Oooo, I didn’t know there was a new Tana French in the offing. This one sounds good. I’ve read her previous ones and have mixed feelings about them, but they’ve always been entertaining reads.

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