A Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French
A family of four is found in their seaside home; two children and their father dead, their mother barely hanging on. Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy has been sitting idle after a past case didn't particularly turn out as well as it should have, adopting a rookie detective, Richey, in the hopes that this will be the case that offers redemption. When he receives orders to take on the case in Broken Harbor, a location that brings back memories of a childhood summer he'd rather forget, he's in for more than might be able to handle.
To say that I was anticipating this title is an understatement. I practically had a calendar count down set up at the house. After reading the other three in this series with an intensity unmatched, I knew that her fourth would not disappoint.
Broken Harbor was a bit more detective novel in that it provided much more detail to the actual technical aspects of inspecting a crime scene than the other three offered. While I won't say I learned much, as I don't know how authentic the experience actually is, I thought it made a difference enough to really separate it from the other three. Kennedy has a deranged sister that he is constantly supplying attention, the story focused less on his own issues, that of the location of the crime and its relation to his own family, unlike the others. Both Faithful Place and Broken Harbor required the reader to follow a detective (rivals, mind you) in a case, while reconciling their own connection with the location of the crime committed. While Frank's from Faithful Place was much more disturbing, Broken Harbor offered enough frustration for me to understand the impact of these respective places to their narrators.
My only complaint is that I felt like many of the characters, while offering their own personality, have very similar voices. Perhaps you could argue that the murder squad requires a certain type of individual in order for success, but I felt that the opening felt much like the other three. However, French is a brillant writer, who, effectively, and in a very entertaining manner, builds the scene and the individuals that interact within it.
I've seen reviews that proclaim this is the favorite of the four, but I can't say I agree. While it was entertaining, a book I did have hard time putting down, it was by far one of the least thrilling in my opinion. I didn't necessarily know what was going to occur or who may or may not have committed such a terrible crime, I had some ideas and felt like Scorcher's preoccupations with his sister and his partner took away from the suspense. This effect, most likely intentional, displays French's ability as a writer to build a character and force the audience to review the sequence of events through such a tight lens. There were moments when I was far more agitated with Scorcher's treatment of his younger sister than he ever allowed himself to be and almost wished her character were not involved in the book. However, it was evident that she had to exist in order to keep the memories of Kennedy's mother, and that terrible summer, alive for the whole family to constantly remember. French makes this novel in-your-face in the present as the murdered family's life is picked apart. A loving couple destroyed by a economy turned upside down, stuck in a home crumbling around them, in a deserted neighborhood that once offered grandeur.
As I've said before, you don't have to read this series in order (unless you're a stickler about that kind of thing). Characters are mentioned in several of the novels, but it certainly isn't a make or break situation. If you enjoy a real thriller, pick up The Likeness or In the Woods; if you're looking for a highly satisfying crime novel with smart characters head for Faithful Place and Broken Harbor.