We need straight lines to keep us safe, we need walls; we build solid concrete boxes, signposts, packed skylines, because we need them.
So narrates Detective Kennedy aka Scorcher in Tana French’s latest work Broken Harbor. Detective Kennedy, (first introduced to us in Faithful Place) is a man who dedicates himself to creating order in the universe; his books are arranged in alphabetical order and he makes a point of methodically repairing them after his mentally ill sister vandalizes his volumes. His sister’s illness was inherited from their mother whose suicide casts waves that ripple on in her children’s lives twenty five years later despite Kennedy’s desperate attempts to inoculate himself with a guise of control. At one point he proclaims to his new junior partner that most murder victims invite their killings through some mistake of their own. This statement isn’t motivated by callousness or lack of compassion on his part; he, Kennedy, simply needs his bedrock faith in cause and effect.
This faith comes under attack in the form of a bloody horrific attack on a family of four. The location alone is enough to rattle Scorcher (it’s the same place his mother drowned herself), but the details of the crime are equally unsettling; there’s no rhyme nor reason.This was a beautiful household made up of a pair of childhood sweethearts who married and had two darling children, and moved into their dream home only it have it all go to hell. The father Pat lost his job in the Irish recession and they were left stranded in their heavily mortgaged subdivision sold to them by crooked realtors. A sea of houses mostly unoccupied that are literally falling apart, the family’s apparent suburban dream has now become a desolate wasteland and the police soon find evidence that the family was being stalked as well. Kennedy a man obsessed with following the rules becomes hopelessly entangled in this nightmare of a family who did indeed follow all the rules only to end up in slabs at the morgue. In the meantime he has intrigues at work and his mentally disturbed sister Dina chooses this as the perfect time to lay one of her crises at her feet.
The solution to the mystery itself, was one I was able to deduce halfway through just as it was easy to spot the perpetrator in Faithful Place from almost the beginning. But Tana French’s books only belong to the genre of detective fiction in the loosest form of the word. (She never even bothered to hint at closure for the chief mystery in her debut novel In the Woods). French is primarily interested in exploring the darker recesses and holes in the human psyche and she does so mercilessly. Killers, victims, and the detectives on the cases alike are all damaged in her stories and she doesn’t offer any sort of closure, or self-discovery either. Many authors are accused of deliberately tacking on happy endings to their books but Tana French almost seems to go in the other direction of deliberately making her conclusions as depressing, as bleak, as unsatisfying as possible. You don’t even get the satisfaction of seeing anyone learn anything from their troubles or retribution to bad guys. It’s the existential despair of the Russians and Theodore Dreiser put into the conventions of an Irish detective story with a few unearthly/fantastical elements to boot. It’s certainly compelling, brilliantly written fiction that lingers in one’s mind, but I wouldn’t call it enjoyable.