Sunday, November 03, 2013


Broken Harbor, Tana French, Penguin Group, 2012, 447 pp

As of this, her fourth novel, Tana French is officially on my list of favorite authors. She is brilliant at combining mystery, police procedural, and psychological insight while setting her stories in the lives and people of 21st century Ireland. Her writing is literary and her characters seem to breath on you while you read.

Broken Harbor, of all her novels, owes the most to current events. When the Celtic Tiger went off into the wilderness of European Union economic collapse to die a sad and terrible death, Ireland was hit hard in the building, new housing, and real estate market. 

Broken Harbor had been a rustic, seaside area but was renamed Brianstown during the boom and built up into a suburban estate with an ocean view. Now it has become a ghost community of abandoned half-finished homes where the few remaining families live with sewage problems and no street lights in crumbling homes they can no longer afford miles away from family and friends. It is a perfect modern gothic setting.

A big case hits the Dublin Murder Squad. Pat Spain and two small children living in Brianstown are found murdered; his wife severely injured and at the point of death. The case goes to Detective "Scorcher" Kennedy, ambitious but middle-aged and eager to recover his position of the highest rate of solves on the squad. Tana French develops many layers in the intersection between Kennedy and the family as she explores her timeless theme of the ways a buried past can return to haunt a person.

Kennedy spent summers in Broken Harbor as a child. It was there that his mother committed suicide after which his little sister became mentally unstable. He has assembled a persona and approach to life meant to overcome and put order into his tragic childhood. Though he is brusque and opinionated, he is used to being in control at work and in his personal life.

Jenny Spain married her teenage sweetheart and when he became successful, they moved to Brianstown intending to live the modern middle class dream. Jenny was also someone accustomed to being in full control of her life but when Pat loses his job it all deteriorates. Now she lies in the hospital unable or unwilling to talk. She is Kennedy's only living witness to the murders.

I read this immediately after finishing Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois. Again the use of cell phone records and evidence from Pat Spain's internet searches and on-line chats fueled the investigation though here the murderer is found and the motive made clear. Kennedy gets his solve by the end but the cost is brutal. This is one of the best descent into madness tales I've read, especially because more than one character walks down that slippery slope.

(Broken Harbor is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. I only read the first book in this series, but I really liked it. It's great to know that the series holds up. I can't wait to continue with it.

    1. Oh yes, you should read them all. She never tells the same story twice as in some other mystery/crime series writers I could name and she is such a good writer.

  2. I'm familiar with Tana French only because I've seen her books on bestseller lists. However, I think I would really like this series based on this review.

    1. Oh yes, you would! She is my new favorite literary mystery writer.