Broken Harbor, by Tana French, is not a book. It is a jagged ball of glass that dazzles the eyes but draws blood as deftly as a razor blade.
Detectives Mike “Scorcher” Kennedy, lead investigator of the Dublin Murder Squad, and his rookie partner Richie Curran are assigned a high profile murder case. A family of four, including two young children, have been brutally attacked in their home in the housing estate of Brianstown. Swift justice is called for and Kennedy’s close rate is the best in the squad, so the brass wants him on the case. Kennedy knows Brianstown by another name, Broken Harbor. In his childhood it was a small village where people would come for a holiday in the summer include Kennedy’s family. Until the one summer night that changed his family forever, and drove his younger sister Dina mad. As the investigation uncovers mystery after mystery, the detectives are lead on a chase for the truth that may destroy everyone involved as past and present collide.
Like all of the preceding Dublin Murder Squad novels, the mystery at the heart of the book is not as important as the impact it has on the characters. Tana French does not write parlor room mysteries. She writes psychological horror where a terrible crime traps the characters in a house of mirrors. By now it would be fair to think the reader could anticipate where French is taking them, but once again she proves herself a master at misdirection. To the unfamiliar, Broken Harbor appears to be just a hard-boiled crime procedural. Most of the action takes place in interview rooms and long conversations between the detectives, various experts, and the witnesses and victims. It is a testament to Tana French that she can layer these scenes with character details that build the growing sense of unease in the reader’s mind. There is a line at the end of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which coincidentally came out the same year as Broken Harbor, that chilled me to the bone and has stuck with me. As Nick Dunne goes to sleep next to his wife, Amy, he describes it as “It’s like sleeping with a spider.” That is the feeling I had reading Broken Harbor. It’s a deceptive book that appears to be telling one story before you realize at the end it was another one the whole time.
I white-knuckled through the last 100 pages staying up late, then forgoing work the next day to finish it. I had to be done, I needed to put it behind me. Which is the way I always feel at the end of a Tana French novel. She is one of my favorite writers, but I cannot read her more than once a year it seems. Her ability to create characters that feel completely human, and then show how easily their lives can be torn apart, is remarkable. And horrifying. The moral takeaway from most of her stories is the smallest things can ultimately lead to downfall. So much of what we take for granted as firm and strong scaffolding in our lives such as our jobs, our families, our friends, our society, even our mind, are really nothing more than ice castles. When a strong enough light shines on them it shows how fragile they really are just before it all melts away.
“Here’s what I’m trying to tell you: this case should have gone like clock-work. It should have ended up in the textbooks as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book, this should have been the dream case.” from Broken Harbor.