Broken Harbor by Tana French
Series: Murder Squad Series, 4
BROKEN HARBOR is the fourth book in the Murder Squad series that started off with the Edgar award winning novel, In the Woods (2007). The four novels are loosely connected and one can feel free to start anywhere in this series. Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy is a cop who likes high profile cases. He’s partnered with a rookie to investigate the murder of a family of four found murdered in their home in Brianstown, formerly known as Broken Harbor. That’s the basic premise but if you want more details you can read more about the plot description here. To cut to the chase, this book was okay but overall a disappointment for this reader.
Broken Harbor was a major disappointment for several reasons which I will try to explain. When compared to the other books this author has written, this novel’s structure was kind of a departure from the rest. Broken Harbor has kind of a gothic feel to it and is a more leisurely paced novel. That last element about the pacing is nothing new for Ms. French’s books. Her novels tend to be very long and verbose and deeply involved. One of the disappointments for me was my lack of engagement with the story. I thought the premise sounded great but the execution of it fell flat for me. I continued to stay disengaged as I kept turning the pages in this book.
I thought the author spent way too much time exploring details of the investigation that tended to not only bore me but bog down the storyline. The autopsy scenes and the interrogation scenes padded with speculation were tedious to me. I did like Cooper, a minor character who’s the grumpy coroner who always makes an memorable appearance. Many of the detectives dislike him. One of the hallmark features of reading a Tana French novel is the thoroughness with which she writes her characters. Often they are complex with interesting backstories that provided an emotional connection to the reader. I felt no such connection between myself and the characters in the story.
As to the plot, I would replace the word complicated with the word “convoluted.” The harshest criticism I have for this book is that it slowly became a chore to read. That’s the last thing a reader expects when reading for pleasure. As for the main character, I never did take to Scorcher Kennedy. He was originally introduced as a minor character in Faithful Place. Scorcher spent most of his time in this book inserting his philosophy about life at every turn of the investigation. His thoughts about his partner and his putting him through the paces of being a rookie was peppered all throughout the book. Sorry but that got tedious for me, too. What’s even more disappointing is the lack of suspense or engagement to care enough to find the truth. I was ready for this story to end at the 200 page mark and this novel is close to 500 pages.
The narrative is told in first person and I’d say that Scorcher did a lot of preaching about just about everything. I didn’t much like him. He did have his own emotional baggage concerning his family history and has a past familial connection to Broken Harbor. One of pleasant yet sad memories of days gone by. Work wise, I did enjoy his relationship with his new rookie partner who turned out to be more than Scorcher had expected. Criticism wise, this novel was just an endless repetitive loop of speculation and interrogation scenes. The psychological suspense seemed overly done to me. At the end of it all, I was bored and ended up skimming the last fifty or so odd pages so that I could find closure. I must say it was a big relief to set this book aside, too.
Final thoughts on Broken Harbor: I thought the plot was weak, the characterizations incomplete and the storyline not very engaging. I’m surprised that I didn’t enjoy this story more. As I said this is one of my anticipated reads for the year. Truth is this wasn’t her best work to me and whatever elements there were in In the Woods or Faithful Place that made me enjoy those novels enough to recommend them just wasn’t present in Broken Harbor. I’m hopeful that the next book will be better. Every writer isn’t going to always satisfy every reader. In no way do I think my opinion will sway her fans. Bottom line is that Faithful Place is still her best book to me. My grade is a C-.
Source: I bought this book
Reading List by publication date:
In the Woods (2007)
The Likeness (2008)
Faithful Place (2010)