Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy, the play-by-the-rules nemesis of Frank Mackey in Tana French’s last psychological thriller Faithful Place is back in her latest Broken Harbor, only now it is he that is the central figure and the narrative voice. And it turns out that when you hear him in his own voice, he may not be quite the pompous ass Frank Mackey had painted. Point of view, it turns out, is everything.
Once again French takes us to Dublin and environs. Murder D picks up a high profile case out in a jerry-built real estate subdivision decaying in the Irish economic collapse. Three members of a family of four, two children and the father have been killed and the mother has been horribly wounded, but is still alive. Kennedy and his new partner, Rich Curran, a rookie he is training are assigned to the case. At first it looks to be open and shut: it should “have gone like clockwork,” Mick tells us, but of course, 400 some odd pages later nothing is ever as simple as it looks.
The great thing about a Tana French thriller is that it is as much, if not more, interested in the characters and their psyches as it is in the who-done-it, and it is the psychological motivations of both the investigators and the investigated that makes the who-done-it worth reading about. As French puts it: “To me, the most crucial and devastating thing about any murder isn’t the physical act; it’s the immense emotional and psychological implications—both the psychological process that leads to the killing, and the enormous fallout after the crime.” She probes not only the mindset of the suspects, but that of the investigative team as well. Indeed, it is her adept portrayal of these psychological processes while making sure to keep the reader turning pages with dispatch that has been the hallmark of her fiction from the very beginning.
Add to this a critical look at the effects of the financial crisis on a middle class family as jobs are lost and money begins to run out and you’ve got the kind of story that could well be making the front pages of tabloids in cities around the world. What happens to the middle class psyche when you follow all the rules, have all the right values, do all the things you’re supposed to only to find yourself betrayed by those values.
Pat Spain, the victim and his wife Jenny are the perfect couple with a firm commitment to the myth of middle class well being. They’ve been in love since their teens. They have two beautiful children. He has a good job, good enough so that she can become a stat-at-home mother. They have bought themselves what they hope will be their dream home—although a bit far from where they’d prefer to live. Still real estate is a great investment. It will grow in value, and they will grow along with it. They seem the very picture of the modern dream. What happens when the dream becomes a nightmare?
Playing by the rules doesn’t always work, not in finance and as it turns out not in police work either. Like the Spains, Kennedy is a believer in the rules. Turns out the rules aren’t always enough. There may come a time when justice will demand fudging the rules. So, at the end of the book as he rides out to the Spain house in Broken Harbor he says: “that day, I was what I had given all my adult life to becoming: a murder detective, the finest on the squad, the one who got all the solves and got them on the straight and narrow. By the time I left, I was something else.” Broken Harbor is a tale of life in time when the values that were always thought to supply a safe harbor were broken indeed.
Tana French knows how to tell a good story. And Broken Harbor has her at the top of her game.