Book Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they’ve cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.

Back on the murder mystery bandwagon again – I just can’t stay away from these! And as Tana French’s new Dublin Murder Squad novel just came out and I want to read it – I needed to review her last book! This one follows Scorcher – seen previously in Faithful Place, as he has to visit a place from his past, now completely different, in order to solve a brutal killing in a family home there. 

This one is pretty brutal folks – because not only is there Scorcher’s own past, but also the past of his sisters, the family that has been murdered in their home, and all the suspects that flit in and out of the range of Scorcher’s investigation. 

Review after the jump!

Synopsis:

In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin – half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned – two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.

Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family, one summer at Broken Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . .

This is the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, a series of connected books (not precisely sequels though) that follow a one-off murder mystery in each. This one, as I said, follows Scorcher Kennedy – a primo murder detective with a great solve rate and a reputation for being sort of a hard ass. Especially in the previous book, narrated by Frank, who has a scratchy type of love/hate relationship with Scorcher – to the point where Frank was the one who gave Scorcher the nickname Scorcher in the first place. French has been very good at giving us a character in one book, setting him or her up in such a way that you start to make certain assumptions about their character and what they are, who they are. Then you open up the next book and realize that everything you thought you knew was somehow skewed. It’s a completely different perspective when you’re inside their head (as it should be) and it’s just perfect – French is just so good at doing this. 

The whole feel of this novel is somewhat more gritty than the previous two, but along the same lines as the first book in the series. This may be because the two middle stories are set up fully – Cassie is a major character in In the Woods before her story in The Likeness, and Frank makes a loud and crazy entrance in The Likeness before he has his turn in Faithful Place. Comparatively, Rob is the first, so he doesn’t have much of a backstory until we open up with his story (which is clever with it’s first line – I crave the truth and I lie) and Scorcher doesn’t really approach major character status in Faithful Place. So we start relatively fresh, Scorcher seems like a bit of an over-achieving hard ass, but we haven’t really connected with him at all. 

And so we open up with Scorcher, training his new partner, and being called out to Broken Harbour – a place he went to as a child, a place of great tragedy to him, to investigate a triple murder and an attempted murder – the attack of two children and their parents. 

As with the previous books, there is a lot of stalling – life gets in the way of investigations, particlarly in this novel where the past seems always present in the presense of Scorcher’s little sister, who acts out, and loudly, the only person left of their family who wants to talk about what happened so many years ago. Scorcher is a hard ass – that still comes through loud and clear, and his characterization as a result is true to its original portayal in Faithful Place. That being said, we have a deeper understanding of the way he ticks and just why he is about the job. You still may not like him very much – but you understand him in a way that makes sense of his behaviour. 

The twists of this story are not easy to predict, which makes this a fun read. Murders seem to hide everywhere – but more importantly, there are always those moments offoreshadowing where Scorrcher’s narration admits defeat, admits his own mistakes – and those are nail-biters. You know something is going awry, but you’re not sure how, and you’re left, toes curled and eyes wide, until you get to the end. It’s a good read, a gritty murder msytery and a harsh ending – any fan of French’s will see this as a good addition to series! 

For reviews on other of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, see here and here. Eventually I will get a review up for The Likeness, I promise! It was, actually, my favourite, too. 

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