I continue to love Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and Broken Harbor, the fourth book, may be my favorite yet. It felt a little leaner than previous books, and the murder at its heart is particularly disturbing. Plus, it explores lots of good questions about luck and fate and control.
Each book focuses on a different member of the Dublin police force as they attempt to solve a murder that usually ties in some way to the detective’s own past. In this case, the detective is Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the straight-laced rule-follower who antagonized Frank Mackey in Faithful Place. The murder involves a family of four — two children, apparently suffocated in their beds, and their parents, both of them beaten and stabbed in their kitchen. The mother, Jenny Spain, is the only survivor, and her injuries are so severe that she may not live long.
Because there was no sign of forced entry, suspicion of course lands on the father, Patrick Spain. But there’s plenty that doesn’t add up. What happened to the murder weapons? And why are there so many holes in the walls? And what’s with the video monitors scattered through the house?
The Spains live in a newly built community called Broken Harbor. Most of the houses were still under construction when the housing crash happened, and so the development if filled with incomplete homes and few neighbors. That houses that do exist are shoddily constructed. All of this adds a level of creepiness to the story.
Scorcher has ties to Broken Harbor, as his family vacationed in a caravan there before his mother died by suicide. And, as he works the case, he has to help his sister work through a difficult period managing her own mental illness.
In addition, Scorcher has a new partner, a rookie named Richie Curran. Scorcher generally has no use for partners and sees his role as getting his new charge on the right path, while he makes all the decisions. But he finds that Richie has certain knacks that he lacks, and Scorcher finds himself getting attached.
One of Scorcher’s mantras is that the simplest solution is usually the right one. But none of the solutions to this crime seem simple. And when Scorcher lands on a culprit, Richie senses that the solution he’s found is too simple. Much of their debate ends up circling around issues of social class and people’s ability to control their own destiny. Scorcher is convinced that following the rules will get you to the right place in the end, but Richie isn’t so sure. And their different mindsets lead them in different directions regarding the crime.
I have to admit, I was extremely fond of Richie and spent a lot of the book worried for him. (Whether my fears were justified, and my opinion of Richie in the end, I’ll leave to myself.) Scorcher was just a little too confident for me to warm up to. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a rule follower (I’m one myself!) but Scorcher’s rule following ends up looking too much like rigidity and judgmentalism. By the end of the book, I appreciated his attitude more, partly because I saw it being shaken. And partly because I grew to understand that he was trying to find his own way to hold back chaos.
The solution to the crime was particularly disturbing, with lots of chaos to hold back. It’s a book that shows how the mind doesn’t always follow the rules and how, sometimes, real justice is impossible to find.