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Broken Harbour by Tana French
This is French’s fourth novel. Having read the previous three, I opened Broken Harbour expecting an intelligent, well written and perfectly paced page turner. I wasn’t disappointed. The pacing is exquisite from the get go, the dialogue assured and lively. This time the novel is told through the point of view of Detective Kennedy, who has appeared in French’s previous novel. His voice hooked me immediately – it has a strong, no nonsense and slightly arrogant tone. According to himself, Kennedy has the ‘highest solve rate’ on the murder squad.
Pretty soon we’re neck deep in the case – Patrick Spain and his two young children have been found dead in their home, his wife Jennifer (who was found lying next to him in their kitchen) is barely alive. The novel is an excellent ‘who dunnit’- tense with intriguing details that have you second guessing from the start, but it’s also much more than that.
The Spain’s live in a ghost estate called Brianstown, previously known as the Broken Harbour of the title. The ghost estate is wonderfully described. As Detective Kennedy and his newbie partner Ritchie drive into the estate and negotiate half built houses and dead ends even the Sat Nav gets ‘out of its depth.’ French excels at the differences between the Kennedy (42) and the Spain’s, especially Jennifer (29) and her world of fake tan, bouncy castles, childcare bills and online shoe shopping. Kennedy says, ‘our generation had low expectations– a few days by the Irish Sea in a rented caravan put you ahead of the pack.’ But inside their spotless home there are signs that all was not well for sometime before the murders; there are baby monitors everywhere, holes in the walls. It becomes apparent that the young couple were under a lot of financial pressure, with two car loans, huge mortgage, and credit card debts. As Ritchie says of the deceased, Patrick Spain – ‘job gone, car gone, house going.’
The only neighbours nearby are the Gogan’s, who are almost grotesquely drawn – ’Jaysus,’ Sinead breathed, swaying forward. Her mouth stayed open, wet and avid. ’Who’s been kilt?’ Sinead Gogan is interviewed about the Spain’s, as her son Jayden blasts away at zombies. She tells Kennedy that the Spain’s had notions and has little sympathy for the family. The Gogan’s side table is piled with celebrity magazines, spilled sugar, a baby monitor and half a sausage roll. I felt a rather prurient superiority as I read the Gogan scenes, (which was completely unearned as my own side table isn’t much cleaner.)
I could not stop reading this book, be prepared to be gripped. The tension does not stop, from the first page to the last. Broken Harbour is an intelligent, deftly paced novel, a ‘can’t put it down ‘kind of book. It’s also a razor sharp depiction of contemporary Ireland.