Well, I didn’t hit the double cannonball like I’d hoped, but I got close. My last book of the year was Tana French’s Broken Harbor, and like all of her (loosely-connected) thrillers, it rocked.
Broken Harbor features stars Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was featured in Faithful Place as well, though to a lesser degree. Scorcher is investigating the stabbing of a family in an unfinished subdivision in Ireland — the two children and their father were killed, the mother was left for dead. And some fairly creepy evidence was left behind.
What I like about French’s novels is that there as much about the detective(s) investigating as they are about the crime committed. Scorcher is a very interesting character, with a troubled family history including a rather loony sister. He’s training a new detective on this case, and his relationship with this man who is not really a partner affects the investigation in several ways.
The crime element is pretty good, too. Lots of twists and turns. And French is a very good writer, especially when it comes to dialogue. The Irish accents are practically audible.
I highly recommend French, especially The Likeness, which is still one of the twistiest things I’ve ever read.
While scanning through other reviews, I noticed a lot of people were disappointed with this novel (it’s one of the reasons I waited to read it), but I actually enjoyed it. The main character may not be as likable or sympathetic as some of French’s previous protagonist, but I enjoyed the slow build up, and the eventual revelations about Scorcher’s past and family life. Like all the other detectives in French’s novel, Scorcher has a background that is a bit more complex than one might expect. In his case, he has a younger sister that is unstable of whom he is very protective. Usually, he can manage to maintain his bearing and keep his private and professional lives separate but this time, his sister has a break down right when he is working a high profile case that happens to have occured in a location that is important to their childhood.
Six years ago, Tana French had zero books. Today she has four (five if you count The Secret Place, set for publication in 2014) and they are for the most part pretty awesome. Set in Dublin and surrounding neighborhoods, each of French’s novels tracks a high-profile homicide and its investigation by a member/members of the Dublin Murder Squad, a parade of gruff yet nuanced detectives with personal backgrounds that range from the tragic to the merely unfortunate (we’re talking everything from missing/murdered childhood best friends to suicidal moms).
In Broken Harbor, which I feel compelled to admit I finished a few weeks ago at the beach (I’m running behind, okay? DON’T JUDGE ME) the case in question is a triple homicide: Patrick Spain and his two young children are found murdered in their home in a once up-and-coming (or once aspiring-to-up-and-come) beachfront-ish housing development. Wife/mom Jenny Spain barely survives the attack, and is laid up at the emergency room recovering as Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy begins investigating the case. Of course, per the aforementioned personal background requisite, Scorcher has his own history with Broken Harbor (the presciently sad name of the housing development) and so must contend with his own emotional roller coaster as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the murder.
Detective Rob Ryan is relatively new to Dublin’s Murder Squad. He and his partner Cassie Maddox have only had easy cases to deal with so far. But then, one day, a case falls into their lap that will affect them both profoundly. 12-year old Katy has been found dead, left in an archaeological dig in the middle of the woods bordering an estate. The woods where Rob Ryan’s two best friends mysteriously disappeared with hardly a trace when he was 12. Are the two events connected? And how will Rob Ryan cope with the resurfacing of the old case?
Into the woods is Tana French’s début novel. Yet, that’s hard to notice; she exhibits a confidence in her writing usually found in more weathered authors. Her language is at times almost poetic, filled with metaphors and then sharply contrasted by the grim events she describes. Her characters are believable, flawed (wretched, even) but likeable. There’s never a dull moment in the book. It never sags or misses a step, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s 600 pages long.
The whole experience was like being in a nightmare, like walking through the fog on a starless night, the only reprieve being the occasional good-natured taunts between Ryan and Maddox – but even those seemed ominous at times. Although I wanted to find out whodunnit, I also didn’t want the book to end. As dark and devoid of life its landscape was, I didn’t want to leave it, yet. Especially since it left me with unanswered questions.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good detective story and who isn’t afraid of the dark.
“Most people are only too delighted to wreck each other’s heads. And for the tiny minority who do their pathetic best not to, this world is going to go right ahead and make sure they do it anyway.”
Tana French’s Faithful Place (which I’ve been holding off reading because I knew I would devour it — and I was right) is technically third in her Dublin Murder Squad series, but you don’t have to read the first two to know what’s going on (you should anyway though — they rock).
Faithful Place centers around a character from her second novel, The Likeness: an undercover agent named Frank Mackey. Frank left his shitty home at age nineteen for the police force in England and hasn’t looked back. The girl (Rosie) who was supposed to go with him dumped him on the night they should have left together, plus his family is majorly screwed up, so he’s basically written off his hometown. He assumes Rosie went to England alone, and forgot all about him. That is, until his sister calls one night and says some neighborhood boys found Rosie’s suitcase from that night stuck in a chimney at their meeting place. Suddenly, it doesn’t look like Rosie got out.
Tana French is SUCH a good writer that it kind of stresses me out. Like her other novels (In the Woods & The Likeness), Faithful Place has a plot that just keeps moving, filled with well-fleshed out characters that behave in such realistic ways, if that makes sense. From Frank’s alcoholic, abusive father to his asshole ex-partner, French keeps people from becoming caricatures and makes them real. And the plot is appropriately twisted and unpredictable. Plus you can hear the Irish accents in her writing, which I love.
I (obviously) really enjoy Tana French’s writing, and would recommend anyone to pick up the Dublin Murder Squad books. Her books keep you on the edge of your seat and don’t let up. Word of advice: don’t start them at 10:00 at night.
I’m embarking on what I like to call a “crime spree” and I’m taking another tour through the crime/mystery realm of books. In the next few posts, in addition to this Swedish crime novel, I’ll be reading a fictionalized account of a true crime story, a journalist’s account of crime in Baltimoreover the course of a year, and an Elmore Leonardnovel (he’s his own genre by now, I think, based on how prolific he is).
So, up first was The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg which had great reviews but I overall found lacking. Erica Falck, a writer, ends up investigating the death of her childhood friend who’s an ice princess in all senses of the word (dies in a frozen bathtub, is cold and emotionally withholding). There are a decent number of twists and turns, but I felt that the red herrings were a little too obvious so by the end, you knew what was up.
Also, I can’t really say anymore in detail without giving everything away, but there was a plot point that irritated me because it was almost medically infeasible. Aside from that, I think my main problem with the book was that there was minimal character development, they felt like sketches of real people. For me, what distinguishes the Dragon Tattoo series or Tana French novels is how real, and honest, and unique the characters feel. You get a real sense for what the characters will do next, and why, and it makes it feel meaningful.
While this book was a reasonably compelling mystery, it was missing that…spark that makes me want to read more of an author’s novels.
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What a bloated, cliched, overwrought mess. I don’t understand how this happened. Her first three crime novels were layered with well-developed, multidimensional characters.
This novel orbited around Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, a peripheral character in her three previous novels. I was looking forward to getting to know more about him, but he turned out to be what everyone else judged him to be in the previous novels: rigid, narrow-minded, cold.
A family gets murdered, with the mother surviving, in the town where his family used to holiday. This brings up all sorts of emotional baggage – his mother killed herself there. I understand that such an event is traumatic and fundamentally affects a person and continues to do so for the rest of their life, but the way it kept being brought up, it was like a broken record. Nothing new was revealed, emotionally, just harped on. His need for control and success are rooted in that event. I get it. How about some growth?
It just didn’t make sense. The ham-handed foreshadowing that led to a reveal about his partner and the reveal about what actually took place. Everyone in the story was crazy and it made me feel crazy reading it. I hated all of the characters. None of them were believable. The good friend who turns into a well-meaning stalking creeper? What? I don’t recommend this book. I still recommend all three of her other novels.
A detective has to go back to the place where he grew up when belongings of his ex-girlfriend who disappeared 20 years ago are found by a construction crew. He also disappeared on the same night and hasn’t kept in touch with his family because his home life was a fucking horror show. He has to deal with them, his ex-wife, his daughter, and everything he’s been trying so hard not to deal with, but with good reason.
All of Tana French’s novels take place in Dublin, but, other than a few non-American English words, the reader would be hard pressed to know that it’s a “foreign” writer or novel. The people and their stories are universal, which is kind of an odd way to describe really intense crime novels.
I read Tana French’s first book, In the Woods, and loved it. All of her stories seem the same and, even if you know the formula and figure out the ending 5 pages in, you still can’t put them down. This book felt the most intense. Maybe it was just the story, but I know about physical abuse in the home and trying to protect siblings and what that does to everyone. I haven’t come across a book that shows it so well.
If you like the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly, you will definitely like Tana French’s writing. Fewer clichés and more intensity. The characters are all from the same police force, but the novels stand alone. I’ve liked each one better than the last.