Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Serial Killers' Featured Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

Want to know more about the idea behind Serial Killers? This post is the place to start.

This month's book is Broken Harbor the 4th book in the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. Odd's the established reader and I'm new(ish) to the series...

Synopsis (Goodreads)
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.

At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.

With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French’s new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet.
Kelly's Thoughts: I can already tell this is going to be a hard review for me to write because part of me loved how dark it was and part of me feels this vague disquiet about the events that happened in Detective Kennedy's past. This is the same thing that happened to me with book 1 in this series -- I wanted answers to the mystery that came before and the answers we were given didn't leave me feeling completely satisfied. Here's the thing, we did get the story of what happened in that long ago summer but I feel like there was a lot left unresolved. For some reason that bothers me.

Now, the present day murders are interesting. Tana French builds and builds and builds the tension on that one and I thought it worked beautifully. It's a nasty, dirty crime they're investigating and the deeper Kennedy and Curran climb into what happened, the odder things get. Without giving things away, there are some things that happen later on in the story that I'm conflicted on. I understand the reasoning behind it to an extent, but I had a hard time grasping how the person who did this thing thought it was an acceptable course of action.

Now, Kennedy is an interesting character to watch. He knows his limitations and he's learned to work around them. He's trained himself to be fiercely controlled -- he doesn't allow the sniping of his arch-nemesis on the squad get to him, he checks and double checks his evidence -- and he's darn good at his job. His mental unraveling is fascinating to watch as he struggles to handle his kooky sister and the demands of this particular investigation. As a random aside, Kennedy isn't called "Scorcher" very often in this book and it kind of bothers me that it's used so predominantly in the synopsis.

Overall, I liked the present day murder and how twisty the path to figuring things out ended up being. I liked the characters, for the most part. I just wish that we had been given a little more... closure, maybe, on the family issues Kennedy had to deal with in the past.

Odd's Thoughts:  I think I might be biased because I loved the first two books in the series, but this one, for me, kind of fell flat. Scorcher Kennedy, a Murder Squad detective from the previous book, is breaking in a rookie detective (who I totally hope gets to narrate the next book because he was hella interesting) at a multiple murder scene, out in a coastal belly-flop of a new development where Scorcher had a family tragedy from his childhood.

I'm right with Kelly on the bizarre twists of reasoning that let to the person doing the thing (I know, we're cryptic) thought even for an instant it was okay, but it was at least narratively interesting. It gave Scorcher something to bitch about.

But other than that, I felt really let down by both the solution to the murder and by Scorcher as a main character. Bring back Cassie Maddox!

Odd: JFC what a let-down.

Now, you need to know that The Likeness, book 2 of the series, is in serious contention for my book of the year, 2012-Gagnam-style. And even then I could tell that Frank Mackey, Cassie's handler back when she worked undercover was a fucking twat. One whole book of Frank Mackey later (Faithful Place) my opinion of him has not improved, and then this book on top of that, we have another unlikeable version of the flawed hero. You read book 1, In the Woods: how did Rob Ryan, the hero of that book (who I found flawed and unlikeable but *fascinating*) compare with Scorcher Kennedy?

Kelly: Rob Ryan. I definitely found him flawed and fascinating. I honestly don't remember if I found him unlikable. (It's been a while since I read that book!) As for Kennedy, I'm wavering on him. I can appreciate that he's a solid guy who knows what his weaknesses are and I can appreciate that his sole goal is to find the person responsible and bring them to justice but there are times when he's a real ass.

Odd: See, Rob you could understand why he was fucked up, and there's this great moment in The Likeness where Cassie, who is still trying to come to terms with all the fallout from In the Woods points out that Rob was destined to shatter during the course of that case, and she just put herself in his path, gave him something to shatter against.

Scorcher, on the other hand, it felt like his dominant mode was to be full of himself, just floating along on his vaaaaast wealth of experience and using it as justification for how he treated his new partner and the lab techs and everyone around him. And while both Rob and Scorcher are very similar -- they both had these tragic incidents in their past, they were both desperate to keep everyone around them from finding out, they both let the secrets ruin them professionally, they both fell out with their partners, they both wanted to blame everything on an innocent party (Rob:Cassie::Scorcher:Dina), cue bizarre love triangle -- but the key difference, I think, was how unlikeable Dina was. See, I adore Cassie. And Dina? Not so much. Which I understand is problematic because her mental instability was so well portrayed.

Kelly: Okay, yes! Dina confused me because, on one hand, she's not all there and her actions COMPLETELY support this. On the other hand, the way she stitched herself into Kennedy's life -- messing up his work schedule, expecting him to be there for her when he couldn't be -- was really difficult to read. I get why she did the things she did but it made her a very hard character to like or sympathize with.

One of my complaints with both book 1 and book 4 is that there's not a lot of resolution to the respective past mysteries. Is this something that carries through all of Tana French's books or am I just lucky like that?

Odd: You want to see her as all tragic and kind of noble in a way because Scorcher's giving up everything for her and he's constantly telling you she can't be left alone and fragile fragile fragile and then it turns out this person he's investing so much in is really unpleasant. Effective characterization, yes, but it didn't make the read enjoyable. There was basically no one in the book I liked.

And I have to say that the unresolved ending has carried through all the books. I really like how it's been done though. It appeals to my love of the indefinable and kind of spooky.

Kelly: I personally would prefer more resolution BUT I can also see that real life doesn't give you all the answers. Still, it was hard for me to get so caught up in the past mystery and basically not get any answers as to why it happened. I don't know. I did like the parallels between the present mystery and the way Kennedy's personal life was slowly unraveling.

Odd: The structure was good, I'll admit, and it made sense, but at the same time a) the solution to the case undered mah whelm significantly, and b) having read the whole series, this is the only structure French has used. In each book, as the flawed hero works to solve a case, their personal life unravels in tandem with the progress they make on the mystery. Then once the case is resolved, the hero is entirely shattered. And on the one hand this makes a lot of sense because the series is basically one Murder Squad detective, one case (which I love -- a welcome change from cozies where one innocuous-seeming small businessperson finds 18 dead bodies, book after book and the FBI never shows up all MA'AM. MA'AM? WE NEED TO TALK.)

but on the other hand, by Broken Harbor I was starting to find it repetitive.

...You know this is all just basically my bitterness at this book not being all that The Likeness is, right?

Kelly: Ha! Well, you also mainlined all four books over a short time frame. I can understand where you're coming from. Especially from the repetitive angle.

What's your final verdict, Boo? Good but not up to book 2? Could've done without this one altogether?

Odd: I thnk I'm going to have to go with "could've done without this one altogether". I keep coming back to how disappointed I was by the resolution of the mystery along with how I cared not one whit for any of the characters.

Kelly: Fair enough.

A Tough Sell

Books in this series
1. Into the Woods
2. The Likeness
3. Faithful Place
4. Broken Harbor - Hardcover | Kindle
5. The Secret Place

Author Links
| Website | Amazon |


  1. I've heard really good things about Tana French! Too bad this one was a letdown. Her books tend to be huge, so I'm not sure if I'd want to check this one out or not. I have heard that Into the Woods is pretty good!

    Great reviews and discussion!

    1. I enjoyed Into the Woods right up until it ended with no resolution to the past mystery (which, apparently, is a pet peeve of mine. As you can see.). The storytelling we good, don't get me wrong, but I wanted more answers and I didn't get them. Still, that might just be a me thing.