New York Times best-selling author and Edgar Award winner Tana French grabs listeners with her chilling Dublin murder squad novels. In Broken Harbor, all but one member of the Spain family lies dead, and it’s up to Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy to find out why. Mick must piece together why their house is full of cameras pointed at holes in the walls and how a nighttime intruder bypassed all the locks. Meanwhile, the town of Broken Harbor holds something else for Mick: disturbing memories of a childhood summer gone terribly wrong.
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I have never read a novel of this genre, nor of this magnitude that is this nuanced, layered, and so real it gets under your skin, even though the work of P.D. James comes close. In fact I spent an entire day in Paris in my hotel room reading most of it, aided by the grey, wintery, snowy weather that boosted the eerie tone of the book, and kept me inside.
There are not many books in this, what, all-encompassing genre that we call "mystery", the books that include police procedurals, psychological thrillers, courtroom dramas, lawyer capers, that have this level of depth, and add an additional character: the geographical setting, a setting in this case intended as a joyful, benign refuge, a harbor to all who lived there, but was "broken" on so many levels, to its very core.
Tana French has a background in theater, and that came through loud and clear. There are are some of the best interrogation scenes I have ever read. I truly felt these people, I felt the strategies, the emotions, the investigational blind alleys of the two cops and the suspect, and I felt the narrator's subtleties as strongly as if I had seen this on the big screen. Stephen Hogan was truly channeling Tana French and her star gumshoe, Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy.
The set design was masterful, as was the quality of description. This reader/listener feels the presence of a harbor that is truly "broken" on all levels.
Not to detract from Hogan's performance, I did find myself hearing the voices of both Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne. Perhaps either one of those actors would be a good choice for another book in the Dublin Murder Squad series.
"Broken Harbor" is intimidating, frightening, and strikes a deep chord of vulnerability. But there is no question that within all the frailties and failings of the characters and their crumbling senses of safety and life-altering violation of their comfort zones, this is a novel of overpowering beauty.
While those who have read Faithful Place were introduced to Frank “Skorcher” Kennedy, we obviously didn’t scratch the surface. He starts Broken Harbor in about the same place French last left him spouting cop jargon and bragging about solve rates. Though the events from the Faithful Place novel have left his reputation a little tarnished. In a bid for redemption, Frank takes a case involving the attack on a family after which only the mom survived. He’s also showing a relative newbie the murder squad ropes, the uncannily perceptive Ritchie. He’s also dealing with a mentally ill sister who has shown up just in time to upend his life. When the case ends up more complicated than he could have imagined, Frank’s path to the killer requires him to question everything he was certain he knew.
First, I’m a fan of the entire Dublin Murder squad series. I find that Tana French ups her skill with every subsequent book. Broken Harbor has officially replaced Faithful Place as my favorite. Second, everything I love about the series is here: complex mysteries with genuine surprises, a fascinating and layered view of modern Dublin, and some of the best interrogation scenes I have ever read. French also tackles another “partner” relationship which she hasn’t touched much since Rob and Cassie in her debut, In the Woods. One of the things that stand out the most in Harbor is French’s vivid portrayal of the victim’s marriage and family life. Through some clever plot situations we get layered depictions of this family which makes their story fascinating. Frank’s character development is also entirely honest which by the end of the book makes the reader a genuine fan. Broken Harbor is a gift for mystery fans. And while each book in the series stands alone, once you read one, you will want to read all four. I for one cannot wait for the next installment.
I listened to the audio version performed by Stephen Hogan. About 90% of Steven Hogan’s reading is wonderful. However, he does a really screechy impression of Frank’s sister which unfortunately puts the listener off.