I was loving Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad so much I went straight from Faithful Place to Broken Harbor, the fourth entry in the series. Broken Harbor features Frank’s classmate and Murder Squad star Mike “Scorcher” Kennedy. A family is found murdered in their homes at a remote, dilapidated estate near the coast called Brianstown. The Murder squad chief assigns the case to Kennedy, hoping he can wipe the slate clean after his disastrous handling of the murder in Faithful Place. Kennedy selects his rookie partner Richie Curran for the case and the two of them work doggedly, sometimes at odds, to solve the terrible crime.
This is the first Murder Squad novel that took me a while to get into and I didn’t really love. I don’t know if it’s the main character or the side characters or the victims themselves, but something about this one just didn’t hook me like the others have. I’ll start with what was good about this book – I honestly didn’t know for sure who the murderer was until just about the end, when Kennedy learns who it is as well. I like being surprised, though this was frustrating once everything was out in the open. Richie Curran is compellingly drawn as the likable, intelligent and humble rookie detective who wants so badly to become a great homicide detective but may not have what it takes to do so. Kennedy is more complex than he is in his Faithful Place cameo, as expected. Brianstown used to be called Broken Harbor, and is the scene where Kennedy’s mother committed suicide some decades prior to when the crime takes place. His sister Dina is mentally unstable and he shares the weight of her care with his sister Geri (Gina?). The dilemma a man/cop must face – how far one will go to ensure justice is served – is thought provoking, as French’s novels often are. There is also a bit of a lesson on pride here that is equally compelling. As with all of French’s previous works, I was watching this in my head as I read. She is such a great, descriptive writer (or, I watch too much BBC mystery stuff). What didn’t work for me, sadly, was the crime itself and the side story involving Dina and Kennedy’s personal life.
Throughout the novel the detectives keep encountering things that make this run-of-the-mill murder anything but. It kept me intrigued for longer than I think I would have been otherwise. In the end, I can’t really explain much without major spoilers, but, all these oddities just ended up being incredibly frustrating. This may have been her design of course; immerse your readers in the feeling of the victims and you’ll get a more exciting experience. I found myself less impressed once I knew everything. One of the major mysteries is sort of solved but is it? You’re left wondering a bit on that one. When we discover who the true culprit is, and listen to their story, it’s sad, frustrating, and a little unrealistic. The other failure for me was Kennedy’s personal life and background. I skimmed a lot of it. It definitely helps humanize a rule-following, straight-and-narrow, type A detective. However, I think a lot of it wasn’t necessary. The novel being from Kennedy’s point of view does quite a bit to make you care about what happens to him; finding out his sister is mentally ill and his mother killed herself and he has guilt around all of it doesn’t really add to the mystery. All the introduction of Dina does is allow for a specific thing to happen that ends up setting Kennedy up for his big dilemma. Could the novel have worked without her? Probably not, but, I didn’t really warm up to it even so.
This isn’t my favorite of French’s series, but I still say overall it’s a good read. I gave myself a romance chaser and just today started up the fifth book in the series. It’s already hard for me to put down 15 pages in, so I am confident I will continue to devour Dublin Murder Squad books as long as French wants to make them.