The book starts with murder detectives DS Michael Kennedy and his rookie partner DC Richie Curran being designated a new case. After a worried call from a family member, the Garda had visited the family home of Patrick and Jennifer Spain. They were sufficiently concerned to break down the door, where they found the bodies of the father and his two young children. The children had been smothered while asleep; the parents had stab wounds. The mother is still alive – barely – but unable to speak to the police. The estate where they lived is now called Brianstown, and was one of the many new developments built when the “Celtic Tiger” saw Ireland’s economy go through the roof. However, due to the recession, the majority of the houses remained unsold. The builders have abandoned the estate, and the houses are falling into a state of delapidation – even the ones in which people live are starting to fall into disrepair. Despite the Spain’s house being otherwise immaculate, when they visit, Kennedy and Curran notice huge holes in the wall. They also find several cameras, normally used as baby monitors, and their viewing screens, around the house. It’s as though the Spains were monitoring their property, hoping to see – what? Who? Examination of the victims’ finances show they were in serious financial trouble, Patrick having lost his job several months ago – another victim of the recession. They would undoubtedly soon have lost their home. Also, forensic examination of the family laptop shows it was cleared just before the events that resulted in their destruction occurred. Is this just what it looks like – another case of family annihilation, where a proud and desperate father, unable to provide for his loved ones any longer, sees only one way out? Or was there an intruder, who managed to enter the house without force and murder the family? And do the cameras have a connection with the murders?
Mickey Kennedy knew Brianstown well, back when it was called Broken Harbour. It was where his family holidayed when he was a child, and where a tragedy that impacts on his family (particularly his sister Dina) to this day occurred. He is now an experienced murder detective, and, in his first person narrative, he leads us through the investigation.
A search of Brianstown reveals a hideout where a stalker could clearly see everything that occurred in the Spain household. It doesn’t take long for the Garda to detain someone; a man who once knew Patrick and Jenny very well indeed. His trainers match bloodstained footprints found in the house. However, this happens relatively early on in this 500-plus page book – a sure sign to the crime fiction reader that there’s more to this case than meets the eye…and there’s a lot more. It’s difficult to say much more without spoilers, but police corruption (in the form of evidence being suppressed) is an issue raised, as is mental illness – and not only in the case of Michael’s sister Dina.
The estate of Brianstown really creeped me out, and that’s down to the skill of French’s writing, as a semi-abandoned housing estate isn’t an obviously creepy setting. Add in the cameras found in the house, and the holes on which some of them are focused, and I was pretty freaked out. What the hell was going on in this family? Jenny Spain’s sister Fiona insists everything in the Spain garden was lovely, but, as the hard drive on their computer is rebuilt, the reality of what was going on in this perfect middle class family is revealed. And it is truly terrifying…
In a sense, this isn’t just a whodunit. It’s an examination of what can happen when all hope is gone; when obsession takes over; when you can feel nothing but despair…and, expertly, French makes what happens seem entirely feasible, even – in a twisted way – logical. I really can’t add any more without ruining it for those who haven’t read it (although I’d love to discuss it further with those who have read it – which makes me think this would be a great book club read!) I’ve got French’s latest novel, The Secret Place (which has had mixed reviews), on the shelf. And after Broken Harbour, it’s a book I’m really looking forward to reading.