Tana French – “Broken Harbor”

brokenharbourTana French has established her own rules—and expanded the mystery-crime-suspense genre—by ignoring conventions.

I read “In The Woods” and now “Broken Harbor” and I’ll go back, at some point, for the other two, “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place.”

Tana French isn’t afraid to slow things down, to let a scene linger. There are many long chapters that involve one-on-one dialogue in relatively inert settings.

Tana French isn’t afraid to write across gender—and she climbs inside the head of detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy as well as Patricia Highsmith climbed inside the head of Thomas Ripley.

And Tana French isn’t afraid to let character rule—and run—the day. There isn’t a moment in “Broken Harbor” that feels forced or contrived in order to wrap things up or keep the pace (a questionable term in this story) going.

The cover of the hardback says “Broken Harbor” is “a novel,” not a “mystery novel” or a “novel of suspense” and I think the broader category is appropriate.  Don’t wade in these waters with “mystery” expectations—although the awards French has accumulated suggest that mystery is her genre.

“Broken Harbor” is remarkably simple on one level—a confident detective and his rookie partner investigate the murder of two young children and their father.  The mother is in intensive care and, when she is able, plays a critical role in helping piece together events.

The story closely follows Mick Kennedy’s thought process in finding the killer, but French opens the story up.  The neighborhood where the murder happened goes straight back to Mick’s youth and the key episode in question is a flashpoint for Mick’s sister Dina, who struggles with mental stability.  Mick works hard to manage his rookie partner Richie, but is forced to deal with a somewhat over-the-top bit of independence. And Mick also struggles to understand the mindset and motivation of his main suspect—and make the evidence fit his main suspect’s confession.  And “Broken Harbor” spends considerable time going back over the dead father’s obsession in trying to figure out what animals are making strange noises in the walls of his house.

Psychological terror is everywhere. Spooky noises or not, the walls close in.  The feeling of suspense lags through a long middle section, but when the payoff comes, it’s perfect.

The ending loops back neatly to the opening declaration by Mick Kennedy, that he was the “perfect” man for this case.  “Things don’t happen for no reason,” Kennedy asserts.  Or do they?

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