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Friday, December 28, 2012

What I'm Reading: Broken Harbor

I have 3 more books that I finished in 2012 that still need reviews.  Two of them, including this one, are 4 out of 5 stars in my opinion and just missed out on my top 12 of 12. So let's get the reviews going so I can finished up before 2013 begins.

Tana French's latest literary suspense, Broken Harbor continues with her winning style.  Here is what I have said in the past and it still holds true:
...police procedural meets psychological suspense.  This is a dark book, with an extremely flawed narrator.  Bad things are happening here and even when the crime is "solved," no one is satisfied; in fact, just about everyone involved with the case has been ruined as a result of the investigation.   And the kicker is, you know that it will not end well from the start, but you are so compelled by the complex plot, the interesting, 3-dimensional characters and their interactions that you cannot look away. 
The titles of all of French's novels refer to a place.  In this case the place used to be called Broken Harbor.  It was a vacation area where our lead detective and narrator, Scorcher Kennedy used to go on vacation as a child.  It also happens to be the place his mother committed suicide when he was a teenager. Today it is a half-built, mostly abandoned, "luxury" housing development known as Brianstown.

Speaking of Scorcher, he also represents a trademark of French's, she takes a character from a previous story and brings him or her back for his or her own tale.  Scorcher appeared in Faithful Place.

Scorcher and his rookie partner are called out to Brianstown where a family is dead. Well, the kids and husband are, the wife is hanging on by a thread at the hospital. What follows is the story of the investigation, but like all French novel's we have Scorchers story from the past, and, in this case, his relationship with his mentally ill sister as a parallel story.

Like all of French's novel's the story from the past plays into the present investigation.  And also like her other novels, the entire story is told in the past tense, by the investigator in first person, confessional narration.  We know the narrator is unreliable from the start, since he tells us that this is a story of how it all went wrong.  There are small asides all along the way where Scorcher says things like.. if I had pushed him just a little more right then things might not have gone all to hell.  We the reader are constantly reminded that the story is a giant train wreck waiting to happen, but we cannot turn away, rather French sucks us in and grabs us for the duration, only letting go near the end.

As a result, the pacing begins quickly as the facts of the case are laid out, then pulls back as we meet the key players, finally building in intensity for the full last third as we barrel down to the resolution, which is not satisfying for anyone involved.

Broken Harbor also directly addresses the global economic downturn.  Anyone living in any middle class neighborhood, anywhere in the West can understand French's setting and context.

Of the three books I have read by FrenchBroken Harbor  is the most traditional of the bunch.  The link between the past story and the present one is more tenuous and Scorcher's issues are more guilt based than actual wrong doing.  Although once you figure out both stories, I liked how the deaths in each mirrored one and other.  But in the end, it was not as creepy as In the Woods or as full of rich characters as Faithful Place.  Also, the "twist" was not that shocking.

However, Broken Harbor is better than most stuff out there and I can still give out this one like any of her books to anyone who like suspense who is looking for a good read.  One thing I love about her books is that while they are slightly linked, you can read them in any order. There is usually at least one on the shelf.

Personally, I have listened to 3 of French's 4 books on audio and have loved them in this format.  Since she always uses a first person, confessional style narration, the audio makes the story even creepier and more personal than it already is.  Scorcher is recounting the case the\at ruined his career directly to us, the readers, but when you are listening to him tell it to you, it is even more real and chilling.  I would highly suggest any French audio to someone looking for a good listen.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  suspense, unreliable narrator, intense

Readalikes: I have many, many readalike authors mentioned if you click here. There are literally a dozen with one click.  I will not waste your time repeating them.

I will be back on Monday with one more post reviewing my last 2 books of 2012-- one brand new and one a few years old.

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