Broken Harbor by Tana French

September 19, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): 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.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers below!


  • I thought Pat’s message board posts and the responses were extremely well done. All the posts (including shorthand, “troll” accusations, and typos) sounded completely genuine and believable. French did a good job there.
  • At times, the suspense in the novel was great. For example, once Brennan was arrested, the tension really ratcheted up. I wanted to know his history with the victims and couldn’t stop turning the pages. Same thing when Pat’s message board history was unveiled. Those were probably the best parts of the book.
  • The dynamic between Mick and Richie was good until the end. Mick started off as an arrogant jerk, but warmed to Richie the more they worked together. That seemed like a natural progression. The end ruined it though.


  • This book got off to a VERY plodding start. The crime itself sounded interesting, but then the first 15% of the book (Kindle edition) was spent telling how the detectives combed the scene for evidence. Ugh, BORING!!! It took a lot for me to stick with this one.
  • I hated everything about Mick’s sister Dina. She was annoying and unnecessary, just a plot device to precipitate Richie’s downfall. I ended up skimming virtually every scene she was in.
  • Having to wade through Jenny’s retelling of Pat’s descent into madness (regarding the mink in the attic) was excruciating. We had just spent a ton of time with the detectives going through his message board posts, so we already knew the damn story!! Getting it again in such long-winded fashion brought the “action” to a screeching halt. That was a poor storytelling choice, IMO.
  • I can’t understand why French had to make Richie a bad guy. There was nothing to suggest that he would hide evidence, so I didn’t buy that “twist” in the first place. Yes, she showed him relating to the various suspects and interviewees and had Mick throw in a comment saying Richie’s empathy was real, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to something as drastic as hiding Jenny’s broken fingernail with Emma’s pillow fabric on it — the one piece that clearly showed Jenny was the killer. That ruined the whole book for me, especially since Richie was the only halfway likable character in the thing.
  • I didn’t like the motive ascribed to Jenny. What was that, madness by association? Pat’s crazy rubbed off on her and she’s the one who lost it first? I don’t know; I just don’t see it. Was she sooo concerned with appearances that she would rather KILL her family than seek counseling, get a divorce, and admit that her life wasn’t perfect? Seriously?!
  • What a dark, depressing story. Nothing worked out for ANYBODY, and I just felt exhausted by the time I reached the end. I should have expected something like this from French, who doesn’t ever go for Hollywood endings, but it still caught me off guard.


I’ve liked other Tana French books, but Broken Harbor was disappointing. It was too long, too ridiculous (even when compared to some things in The Likeness), and way too dark for my tastes. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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