Broken Harbour by Tana French

I am on the Tana French soap box. Like standing on the corner preaching at people soap box – French is fabulous. I adore her writing and her style. Broken Harbour is exceptional (can I just say how happy I am to be able to spell harbour properly and not drop the U). It is my favourite of the five. It is exactly what I am looking for in a book. That being said, I would not necessarily recommend her books to people who are fans of traditional crime fiction. She’s not about the plot twist. In fact, her perpetrators are often fairly easy to figure out. If you don’t know early on, when the reveal happens, it just makes sense. But that writing choice serves the books rather than hinders them. And this sentiment is exceptionally true in Broken Harbour. By not concentrating on the who-dun-it part, you get to focus on the why they did it part. As with French’s other novels, this is a psychological review more than a mystery. Madness is a central focus in the novel. Madness brought on by mental illness, genetics, and social pressure.

As always, French brings back a character from one of her previous novels. In BH we’re reintroduced to Scorcher Kennedy, whom we previously met in a small role in Faithful Place. People always says you don’t have to read her books in order. That they aren’t a real series. And that’s kind of true. The characters change from book to book. But the central character in one book is typically part of one of the previous books. Technically, you don’t need to read Faithful Place to read this novel, but I think Kennedy’s character makes more sense if you understand how his career was impacted by the events of that story (just read things in order. They’re written that way for a reason.) In that novel, Kennedy was introduced to us by the cantankerous Frank as kind of a socially-acceptable, stick in the mud, ass who was an excellent, driven cop. And honestly, I don’t think Frank was wrong. Scorcher is going to be one of those characters that people will relate to or they won’t. It all depends on the way you see the world – which is kind of the entire pint of the book. Outwardly, Kennedy is exactly what he is supposed to be. Even inwardly, this is what he is. If he starts to stray from the socially acceptable lifestyle, he is so critical of himself. It is crucial to Scorcher that he embodies the exceptionally normal and successful, especially since he was basically fucked over by the events of Faithful Place. Now he’s trying to get back on track and prove he’s still what everyone thought he was before. To become the image of normalcy again. To prove that he is the guy he’s always shown everyone.

Scorcher’s desire to be normal is driven by his childhood. A mother who struggled with a mental illness in a time when you did not discuss such things publically. It was better for the neighbours to think that their father beat their mother, than to let people know she was struggling. Struggling so much that it eventually drove her to commit suicide on a family vacation. She killed herself in the only place where Kennedy ever felt happy. Where his mother was happy. Where the family didn’t struggle. Where everything was allowed to just relax and breathe for a little while before they returned to faking it. Until the night she picked up the youngest sister and walks into the water. Dina survives, found burrowed in the reeds aside the water, but she’s never the same. To her family, she was a normal, imaginative little girl before the incident. Afterwards, she started acting differently. At first, her responses could probably be attributed to a child suffering from PTSD, but there’s more to it than that. There always was. Dina knew it and I think their mother did to. I think she saw herself in Dina. Saw that Dina was starting to suffer from the same ailments as her. After the suicide, Dina can no longer hide her auditory hallucinations. Continue reading