Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad #4), by Tana French

Eight stars

Tana French continues to amaze with her fourth stunning Dublin Murder Squad novel, proving that binge-reading this series was a wonderful February treat. After playing a minor role in Faithful Place, Mike ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy is able to steal the spotlight and prove readers why he is the Squad’s star detective. Assigned to work with rookie Detective Richie Curran, Kennedy picks up a brutal assault/murder over in Brianstown, colloquially known as Broken Harbour. When they arrive, the detectives discover Pat Spain and his two children dead, with wife Jenny stabbed and barely clinging to life. Preliminary sleuthing shows that the Spains were deeply in debt, well on their way to insolvency, which might pose as the strongest motive for Pat to have committed this heinous crime. As he mentors young Curran on the ins and outs of homicide investigation, Kennedy wrestles to keep his history with Broken Harbour from surfacing; a mother who committed suicide over twenty years before. If that were not enough, Kennedy’s sister, Dina, has taken a turn for the worse. Her eccentric ways are not always handled completely with the medication she has been prescribed, leaving Dina to be a danger to herself and those in her immediate vicinity. Kennedy vows not to let Dina know that this case has brought him back to Broken Harbour, concerned that the mere mention of it might re-open the abyss of Dina’s deep-rooted mental health concerns. The high-profile nature of the case is making that more difficult by the hour, forcing Kennedy and Curran to work quickly. After staking out the home, Kennedy and Curran find Conor Brennan literally lurking in the bushes and bring him in for questioning. It is at this point that the case and the novel take significant twists, particularly as computer forensics provide Kennedy and Curran an interesting glimpse into the life of Pat Spain and his daily struggles. How closely tied is Brennan to the Spains’ demise and what truths lurk on the World Wide Web that could blow the case wide open? French toys with the reader throughout this story and paces her narrative in such a way that the suspense grows with every page-turn. Another fascinating glimpse into the world of the Irish police procedural that does not disappoint, no matter where you live.

While it may seem that I am rushing through these novels, I can assure everyone that they have my full attention. The art of novel writing is one that French has discovered and honed over a number of years, proving that she is worth every accolade presented. The use of a fourth different protagonist is not only a brilliant move to keep the story fresh, but it forces the reader to pay close attention and not gloss over some of the background development. With new characters emerging in each novel, French has been forced to craft them carefully and this novel does an exceptional job of linking their stories to the larger narrative. While the story progresses naturally, French uses the perfect amount of Irish brogue to give the reader a sense that they are right in the action, working out of Dublin Castle alongside Kennedy, Curran, and the other members of the Squad. She is also able to inject a theme that permeates the entire story and branches out as needed; in this instance, control in all its forms. While Kennedy might need to control his underling, Curran, he is also forced to offer a sibling protection/control of Dina when she flies off the rails. French also insinuates that there is a strong need for self-control among a number of characters, including Kennedy, Curran, and Pat Spain, though its success is measured in varying degrees throughout the story. One might also see control in the form of online research or technological devices scattered around the Spain household as Pat attempts to create digital omnipotence to battle the issue that arises throughout the narrative. Finally, the ever-present surveillance done by Conor Brennan shows an attempt to control the lives of others without their knowledge. French pushes that the more we seek to control a situation, the less we are able to manage it. In the end, it is an acceptance of a lack of control over minutiae that could save us from ourselves. I only hope that makes some degree of sense, as it rattled around my brain for much of the novel’s slow and steady momentum. I forge onwards to find out what French has in store for readers in the next instalment, though I will take a moment to absorb all that has been offered up and the power of a French novel to move me.

Kudos, Madam French for making this binge-reading adventure one that has helped me discover that I have no control when it comes to superior writing and the authors at the helm. I just may have found some of my best reading of 2017 in your collection of novels.

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