August 08, 2012

BOOKS: Broken Harbor, Tana French (2012)

4th in French's series of loosely linked novels about the Dublin police.

The loose linking comes from the fact that the main character of each novel was a supporting player in the previous one. This time, our narrator is Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy," homicide detective, who is assigned to a group of murders -- dad and two kids are dead, mother's barely alive -- in a new housing development called Brianstown.

When Mick was a kid, the land that is now Brianstown was a sleepy beach town called Broken Harbor, and that's where the Kennedy family took its summer vacations, so he has strong memories of the place. They're not all pleasant memories; this is where his mother died, and he's always assumed that her death is at the root of his younger sister's emotional problems, which are still disrupting his life.

But at the moment, Dina's problems have to take a back seat to the murders of the Spain family. A likely suspect crops up fairly quickly, and when the guy confesses, Mick's ready to wrap things up; his partner, rookie detective Richie Curran, is a lot more skeptical of how easily this seems to be going.

French's usual strengths are on display here. In particular, I am (as usual) impressed with how well French uses dialogue to define relationships among characters. There are a lot of interrogation scenes in this one, and through them, we learn a lot about Mick and Richie, and the working relationship that they're developing. Mick is at first surprised, then impressed, by how quickly Richie takes to the job; Richie's got an intuitive understanding of the differences between the two of them, and how best to play those differences to ingratiate themselves with any given interview subject.

I was slightly disappointed with the final act. There are two inevitable plot points in this sort of book -- the moment when Mick's personal and professional lives come horribly crashing together, and the moment when we realize that the person we've been led to believe is guilty isn't (hardly a spoiler, that happens in every police procedural) -- and while I admired the way French tied those two moments together, I didn't find the plot twist very convincing.

In fact, the personal story this time around is much less interesting than usual for French -- Dina is something of a garden variety crazy woman, and feels like a less well thought-out character than anyone else in the book -- but the crime story more than makes up for it. This isn't French's best work, but that just means it's a solid B instead of an A+. Still worth reading, as (even more so) are the earlier books in the series.

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