Contemporary Ireland and the country’s history as seen through the eyes of a Dublin homicide department fuel each of Edgar-winner Tana French’s four novels. In the fascinating but unwieldy Broken Harbor, French examines the precarious financial situation that has seen Ireland move from a booming economy to a floundering one in just a few years.
French keeps her series fresh by focusing on a different member of the police squad in each of her novels. Broken Harbor belongs to detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, an arrogant, headline-grabbing cop who also has the highest rate of solving cases in his department. He and detective Richie Curran, his new, inexperienced partner, are assigned the high-profile case of a family of four attacked in their home in Brianstown, a development abandoned by its financially strapped contractors. Of the four family members, only mother Jennifer Spain has survived the assault.
Jennifer and her husband Patrick were high school sweethearts who seemed to have the perfect marriage, the perfect children. But Patrick had lost his job several months previously, and the family was almost broke. Their house has holes punched into walls and several baby monitors set up around the home. Also a victim of the economy, Brianstown has half-built homes, unpaved streets and spotty utilities, making it a magnet for squatters and thrill-seeking teens. A series of seemingly benign break-ins in which nothing is stolen but possessions are moved have left many uneasy. Mick remembers Brianstown when it was called Broken Harbor, a quiet seaside village that was the site of a family tragedy in his childhood.
French’s flair for a sense of how characters are influenced by their location and her elegant prose shine throughout the book. The emptiness of Brianstown becomes the modern equivalent of the spooky mansion, complete with things that go bump in the night. But several scenes are too long and lose their impact: Tighter prose would have resulted in a stronger novel.
Still, as she did in her other novels, French expertly shows the importance of people connecting with each other — and how fragile those bonds can be.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for The Sun Sentinel.