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Thoughts on Broken Harbor by Tana French

Title: Broken Harbor [buy the book]
Author: Tana French [website]
Pages: 464
Genre: Fiction, mystery, literary
Date Published: July 24, 2012

I have been stalking Tana French ever since I finished The Likeness in October 2008. When you find an author that you love (and I mean love in the she’s-in-my-top-three-favorite-authors-of-all-time way), waiting for their next book is kind of like trying to entertain a toddler. It’s excruciating. (Or maybe it’s just me that finds trying to entertain something with the attention span of, oh, around 6 minutes to be painful.)

So to say that I’ve been waiting for Broken Harbor with every inch of my being is totally true, though also a bit 15-year-old-melodramatic.

But still.


As I cracked open Broken Harbor, it was with a bit of trepidation. Could Tana French even come close to my expectations?

“I will never doubt again.”

I was thrilled when Broken Harbor book was picked for my book club (a new release! hardcover!). When we got together to discuss the book, the premise of society making my generation feel like we have to have it all — a spouse, 1.8 kids, a house, two cars, etc, made for fascinating discussion. We ended up talking politics, taxes, income, and who is considered to be middle class. The discussion was quite natural and flowed straight from the book. Fortunately, we all still liked each other when the meeting ended.

Here’s the synopsis of Broken Harbor from Good Reads:

In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin – half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned – two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.

Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent 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 Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . . .

One of French’s strong suits is her ability to write dialogue. Obviously crappy dialogue is easy to spot, and probably most dialogue goes unnoticed. But I’ve found that I love to come upon French’s dialogue because it’s so interesting. I realize as I type this I risk coming across as daft, but trust me on this. The Irish dialect comes alive and while I wouldn’t call the dialogue snappy, her characters have spunk, making their conversations more than just a way to move a story forward.

I have to warn you that I ended up being consumed by this book while I was reading it. Mostly I started looking at new housing developments as if they were the ghost estate in Broken Harbor. I don’t know how French can not only transport me to another world while reading her book, but can also make it so that I’m sort of still in that world even when I’m not reading the book.

The story itself is heartbreaking, and I was surprised that the story became even more so as I got further into it. Where is the line between sanity and madness? Will we know when we’ve crossed it? Will our family or our friends? These questions come up both in the main story and in Scorcher’s personal story, which was melancholy as well.

What do you do when friends start doing things that you don’t agree with? I don’t mean illegal things, but things that you think will make them unhappy?

The questions this book broaches are numerous, so there are many directions a book club could take it.

If you like your endings wrapped up in a nice tidy bow, Tana French is not your author. I have friends who are still mad that they read In the Woods because they never found out what happened *In the Woods*! I happen to like the fact that the reader is left to imagine how things might/should/could/would end, especially in Broken Harbor. Even more than that, I like that there’s no one person to blame in this story. It’s like all relationships — things are always much more 50/50 than they may seem and when you look at the picture as a whole, it’s hard to pin everything on one person and say, This is the reason everything happened the way it did.

Anyway, all that to say that I loved this book. If I had to rank it against her others, I’d say it ties with Faithful Place, which I thought was only slightly less great than The Likeness (which is in my top 5 favorite books of all time).

A huge thank you to Viking for sending me a copy of this book for review.


20 Responses to “Thoughts on Broken Harbor by Tana French”

  1. Amanda ()

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this one! My library hasn’t yet ordered it on audio, and I’ve listened to all of these on audio. They come alive for me that way, and I want to continue the tradition. So far, Faithful Place has been by far my favorite, so I’m glad to hear that you tie this one with it!


    trish Reply:

    Oh, I could totally see this being awesome on audio! Since I’ve just gotten into audio books, I’m excited to see what you think of the audio!


  2. zibilee ()

    I am still working on the first book, and that is going slowly because I am listening to it with my husband who has a penchant for wanting to watch Star Trek in the evenings and not listen to the story. One of these days I will finish it!!


  3. Amanda ()

    I’ve been a Tana French fan since I won a copy of In the Woods way back when. I’ve read them all except this one. I need to!!! I think The Likeness is my favorite too except I really liked In the Woods too…I have a feeling that she’ll return to that story in the future and solve Ryan’s childhood mystery.


  4. Word Lily ()

    I’m reading In the Woods right now, my first Tana French. 🙂


  5. Audra ()

    I am the last person on the planet to have read any Tana French, but I obviously need to start her, and stat. Do you think I need to begin with Into the Woods or can I start with Broken Harbor?


    trish Reply:

    In the Woods. Fo sho.

    This isn’t a series, but she’ll take one character from the last book and that that guy (or gal) will be the main character in the next book, and while you don’t have to have read the previous book, it’s kind of nice to be all, Oh yeah! I remember that guy.


  6. Melissa ()

    I just read my first of her books, In the Woods, and loved it. I’m planning on reading The Likeness in December so I’m thrilled you loved it so much.


  7. Patti Smith ()

    I so need to get busy reading French’s work…I feel like I’m missing out on a very exciting conversation! 🙂


  8. Julie@my5monkeys ()

    I agree she doesn’t do easy books. They are like good crack book. I agree too with relationships are 50/50 and its never just one person


  9. Liz Cohen

    Like you, I am a Tana French enthusiast. Her plots, her writing, her characters, all outstanding. Her books are totally absorbing, and I’m delighted to share this excitement with you. Thanks.


  10. Laurie

    Time for me to pick up a Tana French novel, methinks. The Likeness should be first on my list, based on your recs. Onto my burgeoning TBR list it goes.
    Thanks so much for the clever and rousing review!


  11. Susan

    Oh, this is on my Christmas list!! I have read Faithful Place and In the Woods by her, I prefer Faithful Place – that novel was gripping and a little eerie, especially the ending which I can’t forget. So I’m really looking forward to Broken Harbour, and I’m so glad it lived up to your expectations! This is good to know. Good review too, though I tried to skip over details of what happens in the book (I like to be surprised).


  12. Frankie

    It’s funny you mention the dialogue of the characters. That is my least favorite part of her books( in particular Faithful Place). In that book I felt like it was some old 30’s- 40’s gangster movie dialogue. I suppose if I heard it with an Irish brogue I would think otherwise. Her stories are excellent and the memories of then long lasting. I will read Broken Harbor.


  13. Seaside Book Nook

    I need to check this out – looks good and I have not read any of her other books! Thanks for the review and recommendation!


  14. stacybuckeye ()

    I still need to get my eyes on the Likeness. Have a great Thanksgiving.


  15. Howard Sherman ()

    Your glowing review got me curious. The synopsis from Good Reads got me hooked. I’ve been looking for crime fiction outside of the run of the mill!


  16. Ryan ()

    I need to get the rest of the series read, I’ve only done the first one so far.


  17. Kathleen

    I still haven’t read any of French’s work! I know, I am seriously behind…


  18. Christina (A Reader of Fictions) ()

    TBH, I did not like the one Tana French book I read, but, then again, I’ve never been a big mystery fan.

    However, I had to stop by and applaud your use of that image from The Princess Bride. Oh, my sweet Westley!


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