Monday, September 23, 2013

Broken Harbor

Only teenagers think boring is bad. Adults, grown men and women who've been around the block a few times, know that boring is a gift straight from God. Life has more than enough excitement up its sleeve, ready to hit you with as soon as you're not looking, without you adding to the drama. If Richie didn't know that already, he was about to find out. ~from Broken Harbor by Tana French
As much as I enjoyed Tana French's mystery novel Faithful Place, she surpasses herself in Broken Harbor. Once again, Irish myth and legend are subtly woven throughout the structure of a detective story, set in contemporary Dublin, part of French's Dublin Murder Squad series. Instead of the focus being on a dysfunctional family, the drama centers on a perfect family, as perfect from the outside as the Mackeys were obviously a mess. However, beneath the smug veneer of upper middle class existence lurks the madness and preternatural fierceness of the old pagan Ireland.

To quote from the author's website:
Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands. 

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care. At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks. 

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.
 Ironically, the downfall of the Spains is that they grew up in a rare prosperous era for the Irish, when the problems of political oppression and poverty had receded into the past, along with much of the committed Catholic faith which had helped to unite the people in their struggles. The biggest problem which Jenny and Patrick had to face growing up was how to keep their favorite ice cream shop from closing down. Living a seemingly charmed life, making all the right decisions, they are bereft of resources when the bottom suddenly falls out of the economy. They find themselves in a new house in a new development which is quickly becoming a ghost town due to the failing housing market. Unlike their ancestors, who knew how to face severe trials, Jenny and Patrick take refuge in mere positive thinking, refusing to turn to anyone for help, focusing instead on keeping up appearances. Separated from church and clan, it seems that there is nothing standing between them and inevitable doom.

It is explained in the book that the phrase "broken harbor" comes from an old Gaelic expression referring to a place to watch the dawn break. The beach there was where the police detective Scorcher Kennedy once used to go on holidays with his family. For him Broken Harbor is doubly haunted since it is also the site of his mother's suicide. His repressed emotions are so stirred by the past and present tragedies that he cannot see the truth. He is yet another character cut off from his roots to his own harm. His determination not to have children destroys his marriage; in ridding himself of the past he loses part of his future. The way the author guides the reader through the psychological turmoils of the major characters makes this novel more than a crime drama. The brief encounter with Irish myth at the very end of the book was for me the key to understanding the heart of the tragedy. This is a book I may lend to others but I will never give it away since it is worth reading again.


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