Broken Harbour – Tana French

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.

27 thoughts on “Broken Harbour – Tana French

    • It is long – that seems to be the case with a lot of books these days. I feel like that about films, actually – 2 hours is long enough for me. I started The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair the other night – now THAT’S long (615 pages!) And it’s in hardback – not ideal for holding up in bed at night! But it’s a fast read – at the moment, anyway!

      Like

  1. When I was asking about Tana French a while back, this is the one everyone recommended, so I’m glad you thought it was great too. It hasn’t quite made it onto my TBR yet, but it’s on my wishlist… 😉

    Like

  2. This was my crime read of the year in 2012. I read the Secret Place last year and loved it–although to be honest the premise initially sounded a bit clichéd. (It wasn’t at all). Hard to compare the two as they are so completely different–except for the way Tana French constructs these claustrophobic worlds.

    Like

    • Yes – the setting in this one was so disconcerting. I did feel genuinely creeped out. It’s creepy in the same way The Shining is, as it’s about the breakdown of the human mind – something that could happen to any of us.

      Like

  3. Good to see your TBR has decreased :-). Broken Harbour is the creepiest of all Tana French’s books – I loved The Secret Place but it feels like it was written by another author as it’s so different in outlook. Broken Harbour has haunted me since I read it because as you say, it takes a look at what can happen when the focus is on what has been lost. Great review!

    Like

    • Thanks Cleo! I’ve always found these family annihilation cases really disturbing when it involves the loss of a job or financial problems – I can’t help thinking, well, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d have to live in a council house?? At least you’d still be alive! It must be a male pride thing – women are (generally) more adaptable about things. I’m looking forward to getting round to The Secret Place, although I seem to remember a few less-than-glowing reviews. And re the TBR pile – I was digging in a box last night looking for my missing copy of Sarah Waters’ Affinity, and emerged triumphant, very dusty – but with ten extra books I fancied keeping out to read! That wasn’t the plan…!

      Like

      • Haha I do love your TBR escapades!! I think you are right about the maleness of this type of crime which I’m sure is because men’s self-esteem is so closely related by being seen as a ‘success’ and to do that they need the external trappings Always sad when you read of these cases!

        Like

      • They are just horrible. I always think, well just go and top yourself (I’m so empathetic!) but leave the rest of your family alone! Re my TBR “issues” – I think the Kindle is dangerous, or useful, depending on your POV/mood, as your pile’s hidden (although not from you!) I also download lots of samples of books, then don’t get round to reading them. But I haven’t been BUYING many books, so Mr C can’t moan TOO much!

        Like

  4. I’ve loved all of Tana French’s books and one of my favorite games is to try to figure out which police officer she will highlight in the next book. I think she is so gifted and can make simple things in life quite scary. THE SECRET PLACE was one of my top books of 2014 – teen girls and all. Can’t wait to see what she writes next! And the cameras in this book were beyond creepy – can you imagine???

    Like

    • The whole “teen girl” thing kind of put me off The Secret Place, but after reading this I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a clever idea, highlighting a different detective each book. I thought it was just me that was really creeped out by this book, as I wasn’t too well when reading it, but I think it got to everyone who’s read it! It was just horrible, completely mental. And it could, feasibly, happen to all of us – I think that’s why it’s so scary!!!

      Like

  5. I enjoyed your review more than I did reading this book. Ha. This one just didn’t quite meet my expectations which is fine! I loved In the Woods and Faithful Place. She’s a terrific writer no matter how much I may complain about her stories. I’ll continue to read her when she writes what I want to read which is a novel that focuses more on the police/investigation and balances well with the personal lives of her characters. I look forward to your review of The Secret Place when you get to it. I DNF’d that one for reasons that might not bother anyone else. Couldn’t get past the rather juvenile language of the teens and the mystery was easy to solve.

    Like

    • Thanks Keishon! I must look out for Faithful Place. The whole idea of The Likeness – being able to take someone’s place when they are murdered as you looked so alike, and so being able to solve the crime – was a bit of a stretch for me. With The Secret Place, the teen’s language is something I think I’ve read other reviewers comment on, and I think that’s why I’ve hesitated over starting it – the way teenagers talk can be, like, so tiresome, yeah? (Like that, for 400+ pages – nooo!) I’ll have to see if I find the murder as easy to solve as you did! Thanks for commenting!

      Like

    • I think you’re not the only one who felt this way! I don’t know whether editors are less assertive nowadays (some seem very young, judging by their Twitter photos!) but there seems to be a reluctance to cut down on waffle in a lot of books (I’ve read similar comments on The Goldfinch, which I’ve yet to read) I don’t know whether they think readers feel they get more for their money with a longer book, or what the deal is – but I appreciate it when a book gets there, written well, in 300 pages, rather than drags on for double that! Apart from that, did you enjoy it? It seemed to be a book that divided opinion. Judging by the writing so far, it’s no masterpiece, but is very readable. But I find the idea of an intelligent 34-year-old man being in love with a 15-year-old just, well, sleazy…wtf do they have to say to each other?! Ick. This may mean I’ll hate the whole book…

      Like

  6. NO I didn’t like the book. I thought the plot was bloated & messy, and that many developments were horribly implausible. I reviewed it if interested, but you want might to finish it first. I really like long novels–so that wasn’t the problem.
    Then there’s the whole teen nymphet problem…

    Like

    • I did read your review (couldn’t resist it!) and can see where you’re coming from. I’ll keep reading, though, for now at least…My daughter is just out of her teens so I really dislike younger women being portrayed at seductresses. To put it as succinctly as I can, it’s SLEAZY!

      Like

  7. I liked how she really was all things to all people–like a blank page people painted their own neuroses and obsessions on, but the book had so many problems. hard to believe it was a big prize winner. No wait a minute. I’ll take that back.

    Like

  8. My visit to the library was successful and The Secret Place is in my bag! It can’t stay on the TBR too long as we only get 3 weeks on loan. Course, you can renew, but not if someone else has reserved it!

    Like

  9. Three weeks seems a bit mean, tbh. We get four here. I’m frightened to go to the library as I’ll see lots of books I want to borrow and read IMMEDIATELY and it’ll ruin my carefully annotated Moleskine diary (£4 – 75% off!) in which I keep my reading and reviewing timetable…And if that’s not enough temptation, I have to walk past Watersones every day, sometimes twice! In The Woods is good – her first – have a look for that next time you’re in!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s