With all the heady reviews of BROKEN HARBOUR (Hachette Ireland) last year, I couldn’t wait to finish up my read at the time and get stuck into it.
Unfortunately, I am a slow reader, a very slow reader. I also got distracted and re-read much of Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales after The Hobbit came out (as I’m sure you did yourself). And Broken Harbour is a substantial tome – over 530 pages. All in all then, it has taken me embarrassingly long to finish it, which I eventually did a few weeks ago.
As an aspiring writer, still at the early stages of learning the craft, I do feel a bit cheeky reviewing books, particularly by people with talent oozing from their pen like Tana French. So this is a review as a reader.
I still remember the buzz starting the book, particularly the first descriptions of Broken Harbour, a ghost estate in remote north Dublin where a truly horrific triple murder (a dad and two children) has occured, with the mother fighting for her life….
“At first glance, Ocean View looked pretty tasty: big detached houses that gave you something substantial for your money, trim strips of green, quaint signposts pointing towards LITTLE GEMS CHILDARE and DIAMONDCUT LEISURE CENTRE. Second glance, the grass needed weeding and there were gaps in the footpaths. Third glance, something was wrong.
“The houses were too much alike. Even on the ones where a triumphant red-and-blue sign yelled SOLD, no one had painted the front door a crap colour, put flowerpots on the windowsills or tossed plastic kiddie toys on the lawn. There was a scattering of parked cars, but most of the driveways were empty, and not in a way that said everyone was out powering the economy. You could look straight through three out of four houses, to bare rear windows and grey patches of sky……
“As we got deeper into the estate, the houses got sketchier, like watching a film in reverse. Pretty soon they were random collections of walls and scaffolding, with the odd gaping hole for a window; where house-fronts were missing the rooms were littered with broken ladders, lengths of pipe, rotting cement bags…”
Her descriptive talents are the best aspect of her writing for me, even more so when they pack emotional punch, such as when Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy (the protagonist) recalls childhood traumas from Brianstown, the former name of Broken Harbour pre-Celtic Tiger. A memorable passage is from pages 348-350, as Kennedy remembers his mum’s suicide when he was a teenager….
“We knew where to look: my mother always loved the sea. In the few hours since I had been there, the beach had turned inside out, transformed itself into something dark and howling. A rising wind blustering, clouds scudding over the moon, sharp shells cutting my bare feet as I ran and no pain. Geri gasping for breath beside me; my father lunging towards the sea in the moonlight, flapping pyjamas and flailing arms, a grosteque pale scarecrow..”
You can see what I mean. All of which, no doubt, helped the author clinch the Crime Fiction category at the 2012 Irish Book Awards.
Dare I say then that there were some things I didn’t enjoy so much. I thought the book dragged a bit, it was just a bit too long. I thought some of the dialogue between Scorcher and his colleague Richie was longwinded, as were the interviews with the initial suspect. (I won’t give details in case you haven’t read the book yet!).
While I can understand the need for it from a plot of view, I found it hard to believe the two suspects (the second one in particular) would speak at such length about their crimes and be able to do so. The plot surrounding the dad and the noises he hears in the attic and walls was interesting, but I just couldn’t go along with it.
A final revelation about Scorcher and his mum, on pages 519-523, was really powerful – again showing the real beauty of the author’s writing.
For me then, it is Kennedy’s own story, his relationship with Broken Harbour and the author’s descriptions of that place, where this book sings.