Tana French,
Broken Harbor
(Viking, 2012)

Ireland is a nation with a generally unarmed police force and relatively few murders, and perhaps because of this we find very few detective genre books set in the Emerald Isle -- although this, like all of society, is changing. Tana French is a brilliant exponent of this home-based crime thriller and manages to maintain a steady tale while remaining within the reality of Irish life.

Screaming sirens, profilers and multiple serial killers could be very difficult to locate in Ireland even in 2012, so she avoids those tropes. In Broken Harbor we get a fascinating story of a murder that sadly could come from the headlines of an Irish newspaper.

The Spains are an ordinary family of husband, wife and two children until all but the wife is brutally murdered. This crime is investigated by Scorcher Kennedy, a man with his own demons that surface subtly through the story.

The story retains its realism with the depiction of some of the downsides of modern Ireland after "the bubble burst" with lost jobs, unfinished estates and deteriorating lives.

The tale is narrated by Kennedy in a beautifully relaxed and realistic manner. We get the doubts, the breaks, the false starts and the disagreements that must beset every real investigation. His partner Richie represents an Ireland of people improving their lives but encountering petty biases and intolerance. Similarly, the neighbours are rounded characters with all the flaws of real people.

Although the story is set in a very ordinary locale and with a cast that could populate any of our lives, it brings some well-crafted twists and turns. The psychological insights are startling but all too plausible. The characters are rounded and the outcome, which I will not spoil, is logical and realistic.

book review by
Nicky Rossiter

4 May 2013

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