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In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin – half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned – two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.

Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent 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 Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . . .

533 pages, Paperback

First published July 2, 2012

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About the author

Tana French

29 books24.4k followers
Tana French is the New York Times bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,440 reviews
Profile Image for Jayson.
1,716 reviews3,294 followers
April 23, 2021
(B) 73% | More than Satisfactory
Notes: Serviceable mystery, but the b-story lacks teeth and it's too reliant on interrogation for tension and plot development.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
June 20, 2018
I'm the least fanciful guy around, but on nights when I wonder whether there was any point to my day, I think about this: The first thing we ever did, when we started turning into humans, was draw a line across the cave door and say: "wild stays out." What I do is what the first men did. They built walls to keep back the sea. They fought the wolves for the hearth fire..

there is no better quote to encapsulate this book. because wild doesn't always want to stay out, and tana french keeps finding the cracks in civilized lives and gleefully pointing them out, shoving wild through, and seeing what happens.

this is a story about a triple homicide, but it is also a story of blistering loneliness.

we have a housing development gone belly-up halfway through its construction, in the middle of nowhere, half-full of people who thought they were making good on their dreams; owning a house, raising a family, taking advantage of the financial stability they had achieved. and then the economy tanked, the developers pulled out, and the owners had no recourse to law or reimbursement and are trapped on a half-built development where the vacant houses are inhabited by squatters, teenage hooligans run wild, and abandoned bulldozers and plastic-covered windows flap in the breeze. the whole thing reads desolation, isolation, shattered hopes.

stage set.

in one of these houses, a family is attacked: two young children and the father murdered, while the mother remains in a coma, fighting for her life.

enter scorcher kennedy, a detective who is himself a paradigm of studied loneliness. his youngest sister has some sort of amalgamation of schizophrenia with synesthesia-elements, his wife has moved on, and he has no close friends. all his has is his job. and he is very very good at his job. scorcher represents that last of the good detectives - he is unwavering to his own code of ethics, and a very clinical detective who can handle watching the postmortems of young children without flinching, does not mind a little verbal bullying of witnesses, all in the game, and silently disdains the shortcut actions of other detectives, proud of his spotlessness in his own set of personal ethics.

enter the wild.

Here's what I'm trying to tell you; this case should have gone like clockwork. It should have ended up in the textbooks as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book, this should have been the dream case.

hubris is adorable, right?

with tana french, it is never as interesting to find out who did it as much as why and how. and every reveal is so skilfully written, you will feel a little glint in your brain as the clues stack up:

when those things are revealed, or when the import of them is revealed, each time, i got a little chill, and even as i was reading, thinking i knew who did it, and then second-guessing myself only to third-guess myself and go back to my original suspicion, then french would sidetrack me with these distractions, "wait, there are headless squirrel skeletons lined up in the attic???" WHAT??

and the slow unearthing of the lives of the victims, the life of scorcher, the relationship between himself and his rookie partner

and when it came down the the ending, and all the characters were worse off then when they began, i just had to applaud, slowly and sadly. i felt horribly alone. i felt as though i had endured something more than just the reading of a book. all of these characters left their mark on me, and because of the nature of this "series," i know i will never see them again, and the next book will just be about some tangential character, to whom i will probably become very emotionally attached and then abandoned.again.

from anyone else, this would be a five-star book, but i loved faithful place so much, i really had to leave some sort of distance between it and this one. but that is just my own personal code of rating ethics, and if hubris comes for me, i can handle it.

famous last words.

oh, and p.s. -if this doesn't scare you now, it will:


trust me.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
April 25, 2023
2021: Bleak. Brutal. Devastating. And so good.

2013: This may be my favorite of Tana French's novels, tied with The Trespasser and just barely overtaking Faithful Place, and I loved it immensely.
At its heart, it's a book about the terror of madness, the dreams gone awry, the slow spiral that gets you to your breaking point, and the sad pathos of desperately grasping at the straws that tether you to the world of familiar safety of normalcy.

The setting of this novel scares me in the way it's grounded in reality. This is no longer Ireland of In the Woods, Celtic Tiger rushing onto the world's economy stage, a country high on the economic boom. No, this is a land hit hard by the recession, with people losing the spring in their step as disillusionment sets in after the economic high has dissipated, with people seeing their dreams of security floating away like dust in the wind - the dreams that they have spent so long fighting for.
As Tana French herself says in the interview found on Penguin.com, "Now a solid proportion of our generation are stuck on half–built, half–occupied, abandoned estates with open sewage pits and no street lighting, miles from any friends or family, and many of their houses are falling to pieces. They’re unemployed or being taxed to the point where they can’t pay their mortgages, and no one’s ever going to buy their houses so they can move on. And their belief in a sane world, a world where they have any control over their own lives, has been smashed.

That haunts me. It should never have happened; it didn’t need to happen. And because Ireland is my home and I love it, I get seriously passionate and seriously angry about terrible things that are done to, and by, this country. That ended up shaping the book."

'I’m the least fanciful guy around, but on nights when I wonder whether there was any point to my day, I think about this: the first thing we ever did, when we started turning into humans, was draw a line across the cave door and say: Wild stays out. What I do is what the first men did. They built walls to keep back the sea. They fought the wolves for the hearth fire.'
Broken Harbour is the place that was supposed to become a seaside community of Brianstown, an estate of 250 homes filled with families enjoying the amenities, building lives, raising children while enjoying the seaside view. As it's not rare in the times of economic highs, it was quickly being put together to cash in on the promise of housing boom, with houses being sold even before they were built.

And then the recession came, and Brianstown became a ghost estate, isolated from other communities, a place fitting its old name of Broken Harbour, with scarcely a fifth of houses occupied, with the rest in various stages of unfinished construction declining into disrepair, far from anything, with mostly empty streets and windowless unfinished future homes that will likely never be filled with life that isn't rodents or occasional squatters.

And the promised seaside view is nothing but the cold sea waves relentlessly and hauntingly crashing on the shore, filling the air with the ominous unfriendly sound.
'I didn’t tell him: the ghosts I believe in weren’t trapped in the Spains’ bloodstains. They thronged the whole estate, whirling like great moths in and out of the empty doorways and over the expanses of cracked earth, battering against the sparse lighted windows, mouths stretched wide in silent howls: all the people who should have lived here. The young men who had dreamed of carrying their wives over these thresholds, the babies who should have been brought home from the hospital to soft nurseries in these rooms, the teenagers who should have had their first kisses leaning against lampposts that would never be lit.

Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they’ve cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.'

This is the place where the fleetingness of dreams becomes painfully clear, and not only depression but madness is threatening to break through the walls surrounding your home and life. It is the place where desperation lurks just around the corner, traveling along the deserted, ghostly streets. It is the place that epitomizes the rise and fall of the country.

This is also the place where, in one of the formerly dream homes, the bodies of the four members of Spain family were found - Pat and Jenny in puddles of blood downstairs, stabbed viciously and repeatedly, and their small children Emma and Jack strangled upstairs, looking almost like they are peacefully sleeping. It appears to be a senseless tragedy, and only one of the Spains seems to have survived it - Jenny is hanging on to life by a thread in the hospital, in no condition to talk.

And to add to the senseless gruesomeness of the murder, there are countless little things that when put together send the additional chilly shiver down the spine - the empty windows of the surrounding empty houses staring down into Jenny and Pat's yard and home - the perfect hiding places in addition to their unintended creepiness, the puzzling holes in the walls of the house, the skeletons of small animals, the baby monitors serving a purpose much different than that intended, the hints of life Pat and Jenny may have been hiding from the eyes of others, the bear trap in the attic, the online forum messages that become more and more desperately unhinged, and the unrelenting sound of sea waves in this ghost estate. All the little things that when added together can do more than just cause tiny little ominous cracks in the already stretched thin and desperate minds.
'The smell of the sea swept over the wall and in through all the empty window-holes, wide and wild with a million intoxicating secrets. I don’t trust that smell. It hooks us somewhere deeper than reason or civilization, in the fragments of our cells that rocked in oceans before we had minds, and it pulls till we follow mindlessly as rutting animals. When I was a teenager, that smell used to set me boiling, spark my muscles like electricity, bounce me off the walls of the caravan till my parents sprang me free to obey the call, bounding after whatever tantalizing once-in-a-lifetime it promised. Now I know better.'
Mick 'Scorcher' Kennedy is a Murder Squad Detective assigned to the case through which he also needs to take his new partner and rookie Detective, Richie Curran (the partnership that ultimately evokes the memory of the similar strong friendship connection between Rob and Cassie in French's first novel). Kennedy would appear to be the perfect man for this strange case - he's well-known for his sky-high crime solve rate, he always plays by the rules, he values his job above everything else, he focuses on the positive even in the darkest times, and he is a walking embodiment of ethics and rationality.
'Here's what I'm trying to tell you: this case should have gone like clockwork. It should have ended up in the textbooks as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book, this should have been the dream case.'
But because this is a Tana French novel, we just know that before long we will see the unraveling of even the strongest characters, the breakdown of mental defences, the struggle for sanity - basically a poignant drama shrouded in the cloak of murder mystery. And as we inhabit the head of Mick Kennedy, as we get to hear his masterfully created narrative voice, as we - of course! - come to see the deep secrets that even he is hiding in the deep recesses of his mind, we cannot help but hold our breaths as the novel slowly glides to French's trademark soul-shattering mind-punch of an impact - not of the murder mystery itself but of the deep scars it leaves on everyone involved, the scars on the soul that will never fade.

I stayed up late into the night reading this book, fighting against the sinking feeling in my stomach telling me that I'm not prepared for the emotions that are to come, and loving every page despite the inevitable soul-crushing that I knew was coming. I would recommend it to anyone - and, since French's 'Dublin Murder Squad' series is really a bunch of unconnected novels, there is no reason not to start with this one.

Unflinching, depressing, scarring, soul-breaking five stars - and a flash of terror every time I think I may hear something scratching in the attic.

My reviews of the previous books in the 'Dublin Murder Squad' series are here: In the Woods (the first book), The Likeness (the second book), Faithful Place (the third book), The Secret Place (the fifth book), and The Trespasser (the sixth book).
Profile Image for Regina.
625 reviews390 followers
August 31, 2012
Tana French could write an obituary and I would read it. I would, in fact, hunt down the newspaper just so that I could read it. Ms. French's books are the sum of almost everything I love in fiction -- flawed characters, seriously messed up pasts, conflicting moral questions, interesting settings and subtle social commentary. I believe French's writing could be easily categorized as mystery or thriller, but I think putting French's books in those boxes is misleading and doesn't do her books the justice they deserve. Tana French writes about characters, she solidly develops them, lets you peak into their lives and then as you are leaning in to get a good look - you tumble into the characters' lives and storyline completely. Reading her books is an experience.

Like most fans, I waited excitedly and curiously for over a year for Broken Harbour. The main character in Broken Harbour is "Scorcher" and he was introduced in French's last book Faithful Place. Just an aside (but an important one!), it is not necessary to read Faithful Place or any other book by French to understand and enjoy Broken Harbour. Scorcher was not an important character in Faithful Place and he seemed, rather distasteful. So I waited to see what Ms. French could do to make me want to read about him. But I never doubted that she would. I was right to not doubt, I could not put Broken Harbour down. I wanted to quit my job and my family and just read and that is the magic of Tana French.

Broken Harbour is darker than the first three books she has written, which I did not think was possible. Like Faithful Place, the book deals with family dynamics, economic struggles, and career pressures. Scorcher is not a likeable guy. He is rigid, he lectures subordinates, and he lives by a very strict way of life -- there is no compromise. The upside to his character is that he judges himself as harshly as he judges those around him. He never lets himself take a break from any of his tough rules. Little by little as the murder investigation deepens, the reader learns more about Scorcher's past. There is very little that is shocking about childhood stories and said tales of painful memories, but Scorcher's tale is sad. And his method of dealing with his pain is in the end, understandable.

Okay, take a look at the cover of the book -- the lone and empty tricycle by the beach. Eerie? Sad? Yes and even scary. Broken Harbour had me spooked in the beginning to go to bed. The story is introduced with a horrific crime that has taken place in a very eerie setting. The setting is that of a building development that was never completed due to the economic turn-down. Only a few families live in the one or two completed homes among a skeleton of abandoned construction along the coast of Ireland. Stresses of job loss, disappearing social status, marital pressure and loss of sanity work to make every layer of this story heartbreaking, exciting and slightly scary. Not scary in the Stephen King or Halloween horror movie sense; but scary in the sense that wow, that family could be mine. I could lose my job tomorrow and where would we be? Tana French brings some very real economic realities to the forefront and weaves them together to create a rich and frightening tale. I highly recommend this book for fans of Tana French, psychological thrillers, mysteries and character driven stories. You will not regret it.

To read this review and others like it check out: www.badassbookreviews.com
Profile Image for Elaine.
784 reviews364 followers
November 14, 2012
Next time I pick up a Tana French book, someone beat me please. The spark that animated the first two books, and compensated for their structural weaknesses, has turned sour.

This book just drags. While the premise -- that Ireland's recession and housing crash can literally drive you crazy or kill you - was intiriguing, the book was just bloated and in need of a good editor. The plot bogs down for about 300 pages in the middle -- I was so bored that I convinced myself into thinking the end would be an action packed series of twists and turns, but no such luck. The ending is not as surprising as French might wish, and none of the psychobabble that supposedly justifies the characters' concluding actions rings true. The book ends not with a bang, but a "Huh?"

Particularly disappointing was the abrubt exit from the scene of Richie, the most interesting and sympathetic character in the book, leaving us alone with the much less interesting (and far more grating) Scorcher. The sparks of warmth between the two detectives, and Richie's basic humanity, were the only bright spots in a parade of fundamentally unlikable people. Particularly grating was Dina, Scorcher's mentally ill younger sister, who shrieks and destroys and demands attention attention attention. It's as if no one in the book has ever heard of treatment or medication.

The most intriguing plot points are unresolved. Which is typical. Also typical is the improbable past connection between detective and crime. At this point, French's formula has turned bitter and repetitive (the characters in Faithful Place were also highly unlikeable). I probably won't do this again.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
January 3, 2021
i was super invested in this. it had just the right amount of random that i was constantly on the edge of my seat. things were going every which way that it made this slow paced investigation feel exciting. i was totally prepared for a shocking ending.

but the last 50 pages or so turned me off. i think if the reader was given a definite reason for why certain characters acted the way they did, then i think i would have been okay with it. but the way things turn out, with the fact that the reader needs to make inferences, kinda annoys me.

but overall, this is classic TF. its a complex character study surrounding an intriguing slow-burn mystery. and even though the ending disappointed me, the majority of the book is enjoyable.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
May 17, 2015

Broken Harbour is yet another gripping psychological mystery from one of my favourite authors. I love how Ms French can always be relied on to deliver something brilliant that is far more about people and their mentalities than it is about simply solving cases. She has a real talent for creating personalities that seem to jump off the page and Scorcher Kennedy is no exception.

Though all her novels offer an in-depth exploration of the human mind, I think Broken Harbour is perhaps the one that best explores insanity... that fine line so easily crossed in times of desperation and hardship. I questioned the mental state of almost every character I came across in this novel, all of them had some serious issues and obsessions that drove them to new extremes. Is Pat Spain an overly cautious man looking out for his family, or have their recent financial worries driven him over the edge?

But it's not just this novel's victims that seem prone to madness, there's a big question mark over Scorcher Kennedy himself and whether or not his childhood experiences at Broken Harbour are influencing his decisions on the case and making him irrational. And, of course, Scorcher's indisputably mad sister who turns up and causes havoc at the worst possible times. There's just an uncertainty hanging over everything in this novel, all the characters' motivations come under the microscope.

Once again, this is more psychology than mystery, with the murders forming the platform on which minds can be explored. It's a good job, really, seeing as the murderer is fairly easy to guess. Oddly, though, French's novels do not suffer when you discover the culprit early, I think mainly because her stories are more about the reasons why people were led to murder and the reasons why the people around them behaved the way they did. It's this psychological analysis that keeps me hooked to her books, plus my need to discover where the detectives will finally end up.

P.S. I'm still waiting to hear about Rob. I know I sound like a broken record, but can't we just get a glimpse into his life now? Please?
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
February 14, 2020
The devil is in the details.

To me, the 100% spectrum of life is divided up between two tiny slivers of white and black, the great mass of the 99.999% between is a wall of grey, lighter at one end and darker at the other, but grey. For some people, this is heresy or foolishness, life is divided evenly between white and black; order and chaos, good and bad, us and them.

When I was on active duty in the US Army, there was a sergeant who loved to argue with me. He was a black and white guy, rules and order against the dark side of rule breakers and pandemonium. To him, rules defined life; without rules, we were lost in a sea of hopelessness. He could not figure me out, I was at the time also a law student and to him I should be squarely on the side of order. In D&D alignment terms, I should have been Lawful Good. I, on the other hand, could understand him. His father had been in the Army and he had enlisted the Monday after HS graduation. He had gone from a household ruled by order to a life defined with boundaries of standard operating procedures and commander’s intent. I on the other hand, was raised at least to some degree to question authority. Not necessarily to identify with anarchy but to simply want to know why. I tend to take issue with everything, ask difficult questions, take the devils’ advocate stance, argue both sides of a political debate and then acknowledge that I champion neither. (I define myself in D&D alignment terms as Neutral Good btw).

Tana French’s 2012 addition to her magnificent Dublin Murder Squad series is in many ways about the differences in these two opposing worldviews.

As readers of the series know, each book is told from the first person perspective of a different protagonist. The succeeding hero or heroine was introduced in the latter, and so the audience knows this new narrator from the last book.

I love that she is doing this.

Our hero in Broken Harbor was surprising: Scorcher Kennedy. We were introduced to Detective Sergeant Kennedy in French’s 2010 Faithful Place and he was described as a letter of the law RULES man, a bright and shining paladin of justice whose worldview ran countercurrent with that book’s protagonist, all Irish hero Frank Mackey.

In Broken Harbor, French’s seemingly unlikely hero Kennedy is actually a brilliant selection for this story. There is really not a lot going on: a brutal murder and the arrest and interrogation of the suspect. But here is where French’s great talent leads us down into the murky GREY corridors of our lives. Kennedy, whose life is not quite as orderly as he would like to imagine, is confronted with a fog of uncertainty and moral compromise.

What is the right thing to do? Are there good guys and bad guys, us and them? Really? Quite often the good guy does some bad things and the supposed villain has some redeeming qualities, sometimes quite noble.

As in her other books, French also uses Broken Harbor as a vehicle to discuss the socio-economic dynamic culture of Ireland and the Irish people. French describes a generation coming along “with notions”, whose suburban and comfortable existence is snappy and carefree compared to the only recent ancestry of poverty and hardscrabble. French asks some difficult questions: who are the modern Irish, and how sturdy is this new bubble of prosperity built upon generations who’ve gone without?

Broken Harbor is a well told and thoughtfully crafted modern tale of difficult choices amidst a swirling eddy of grey ambiguity.

Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews524 followers
December 18, 2017
Tana French delivers again.

Murder detective Mick ( Scorcher) Kennedy is on a high profile case located in what was formerly known as Broken Harbour, now Brianstown, where his family used to vacation. He has a rookie, Richie, under his wing but it is Mick who tells us this story.

Brianstown is a relatively new community development that promised would be residents an idyllic seaside community, a safe place to raise your family, build a life, pursue your dreams, then the economy plummeted leaving Brianstown unfinished; barren, desolate, with the few scattered residents sharing their space with teenagers run wild and other unwelcomes that squat in nearby abandoned houses. Their calls remain unanswered, their future bleak, all promises forgotten.

Pat and Jenny Spain and their two children are among those scattered residents: their future looks grim, Pat has lost his job and theirs is a financially unstable, lonely place – I’m talking bone cracking, dungeon deep, no holds barred, totally isolated, no where to turn, not even each other- alone. It is here that Mick and Richie are headed.

French’s characters are finely etched, deeply nuanced people, with basic human flaws, reflected at their worst and best moments; they smell real to me.

Some people get hit by a tidal wave, dig in their nails and hold on; they stay focused on the positive, keep visualising the way through till it opens up in front of them. Some lose hold. Broke can lead people to places they would never have imagined. It can nudge a law-abiding citizen onto that blurred crumbling edge where a dozen kinds of crime feel like they’re only an arms reach away. It can scour away a lifetime of mild, peaceful decency until all that’s left is teeth and claws and terror. You could almost catch the stench of fear, dank as rotting seaweed, coming up from the dark space at the back of the closet where the Spains had kept their monsters locked down.

Mick is a stand up guy who lives by a strict moral code of control that has helped to make him near top dog on the murder squad, he has his own demons sure and they have cost him the top spot, but he is eager to reaffirm his bosses view of his former abilities, bad days behind.

Here’s what I am trying to tell you: this case should have gone like clockwork. It should have ended up in the text books as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book this should have been the dream case.

Only, somewhere far inside my spine and deep in the palms of my hands, something hummed; like a sound too low to hear, like a warning, like a cello string when a tuning fork strikes the perfect tone to call it awake.

Tana French has got it going on folks. Trust me, you will not be able to read just one. :)
Profile Image for Kate.
31 reviews6 followers
December 29, 2012
This probably seems like too few stars for a book so compelling, it's still haunting me two days later -- and making me think I'm hearing bumps in the night. But the denouement of the book was too absurd to hold up, and having Jenny be the murderer -- with such a thinly-constructed rationale -- just didn't work for me.

Broken Harbor has gotten raves from professional critics for elevating the detective procedural to a level of social commentary, in this case about the personal destruction wrought by the economic recession of 2008 -- and in particular here, the housing bust and surge of unemployment that hit Dublin. In my view, French had some success in that arena, especially when it came to using Brianstown as a living, breathing enactment of financial progress gone badly bust, creating a dystopian wasteland for the unlucky few who ultimately live there.

But suggesting that in a mere six months, the loss of a job made a previously happy, healthy, successful father into not just a depressed recluse, but a man obsessed with a fake predator in the house whose existence feels so real to the character that it reads like he's had sudden-onset schizophrenia? (And we never do get an explanation for those headless vermin.) To think that his wife, who comes from a relatively close, if not well-off Irish family, was so incredibly proud of her socioeconomic standing that she'd rather retreat into utter isolation with two vulnerable kids than admit that they were broke and on the razor's edge of sanity? To think that she'd actually slaughter her family rather than open up to a beloved sister, take the kids and go to a family member's house or even a shelter for respite? It makes no sense to me at all.

To stand all this up, French would have had to spend a lot more time developing the backstory on the Spains -- not just a few pages about how they tried to save a doomed ice-cream stand and once had a close posse of high-school friends. The story of Jenny Spain is almost a Lily Bart with a modern and murderous twist, but none of the contextual depth to make it credible.

Regardless, the reactions to Jenny's confession by both Mick and Fiona strike me as unlikely as well. No matter how isolating and hard her final months had become, what she has done is monstrous, and the idea that she might be able to "start over" in 10 or 15 years with Conor is, surely, a canard. (I give Mick more credit than Richie, though; he's so sympathetic to this murdering mom that he actually conceals the evidence that could convict her, whereas at least Mick wants to see justice done.)

This whole thing really got to me, perhaps because I'm also a mother of two and my husband also lost his job in the spring of 2008, while I was pregnant with my son. We were fortunate in that I had a job the whole time, and he was reemployed within the year, so we never had to go to Plan B. As I'm sure many parents have, I've also spent a lot of time of late thinking about the Newtown, Conn. shootings and searching for explanations as to what motivated Adam Lanza to perform such a heinous crime. In the case of Broken Harbor, I want more explanation; I want deep context, not pointillism. Even a fictional case of child-killing is too offensive to our moral fiber to be left poorly explained.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,632 followers
April 24, 2023
It was a pleasure to enter the world of a Tana French murder novel once again. This was a great reminder of what draws me to her murder mysteries over so many other options out there – the superb character development and the bleak atmosphere. If you’re not familiar with her work already, I’ll point out that it’s not the same main character carried through each installment. You will meet a minor character in one book, and then by the next he or she features as the protagonist. Sometimes this gives one a preconceived notion of what this person might be like. In this case, I thought Mick Kennedy, also known as Scorcher, would be a bit of a pretentious ass. At first, I was right.

“Long before I say Word One to a witness, or a suspect, he needs to know that Mick Kennedy is in the house and that I’ve got this case by the balls. Some of it is luck – I’ve got height, I’ve got a full head of hair and it’s still ninety-nine percent dark brown, I’ve got decent looks if I say so myself, and all those things help – but I’ve put practice and treadmill time into the rest.”

As usual with French, however, we are given front row seats not into the mind of the murderer, but to that of the detective him or herself. I love this. These are men and women with beating hearts and often painful backgrounds that are carefully and deliberately revealed, layer by layer. I grew to understand Mick Kennedy a whole lot more. The partners are also decently fleshed out and that was exactly the case here. This time, Mick is paired up with a rookie cop named Richie. This is his first time out with the murder squad, and the case is downright gruesome, involving an entire family. I suspect this is French’s formula, but the crime often happens to take place in an area in which the detective, in this case Mick, is quite familiar. Mick grew up going on holiday with his family to Broken Harbor, a place that has now been developed, though quite unsuccessfully, into a suburban landscape called Brianstown. The characters here are quite predictable suburbanites. (I say this a bit tongue in cheek, being a reluctant suburbanite myself.) I don’t mind some cookie cutter characters however, since so many of the others are nicely conceived. The aura surrounding Broken Harbor is palpable. As Mick stands on the beach debating this latest case, he reflects on his troubling past association with the area.

“I looked out over the water, into the night that was coming in on the tide, and I felt nothing at all. The beach looked like something I had seen in an old film, once upon a time; that hotheaded boy felt like a character from some book I had read and given away in childhood. Only, somewhere far inside my spine and deep in the palms of my hands, something hummed; like a sound too low to hear, like a warning, like a cello string when a tuning fork strikes the perfect tone to call it awake.”

I don’t like to reveal a whole lot when it comes to this genre, but suffice it to say that those looking for a ton of action will likely be disappointed. That’s not to say French’s books aren’t nicely paced, because they certainly are. There’s a good bit of police procedural, which in my rookie mind is well done. But it’s the people and the places that suck me in each and every time. I have to say that this, book four in the series, might be my least favorite thus far, but that doesn’t say a whole lot because I still felt pretty damn fulfilled after reading it. So far, I’ve given every Dublin Murder Squad 4 stars, and this one deserves it as well. But if forced to rank, this would be a low four compared to the others. I’m already thinking about the next book in the series and wondering which character from this one will be flayed open under the microscope for my close scrutiny!

“Just about everything in this life is treacherous, ready to twist and shape-shift at any second; it seemed to me that the whole world would be a different place if you had someone you were certain of, certain to the bone, or if you could be that to someone else.”
Profile Image for Alex is The Romance Fox.
1,461 reviews1,087 followers
June 11, 2017
After playing a minor role in Faithful Place, Mike 'Scorcher' Kennedy is able to steal the spotlight and prove readers why he is the Squad's star detective. Assigned to work with, Kennedy picks up a brutal assault/murder over in Brianstown, colloquially known as Broken Harbour.

In Broken Harbour, Tana French's 4th novel in her Dublin Murder Squad Series, Mike ("Scorcher") Kennedy, who played a minor role in the previous book, Faithful Place, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7... has been assigned a new partner, rookie Detective Richie Curran and given a new case to solve.

Patrick & Jenny Spain and their two small children had been brutally attacked in their home, in a decaying and unfinished housing development in Brianstown, formerly known as Broken Harbor, just outside Dublin The husband had been stabbed to death and the two children suffocated whilst the wife left barely alive.

There are two storylines - the present murder and the connection to Sorcher. It was the place that he use to spend his family holidays in the past and where his mother had committed suicide when he was a teenager.

Kennedy is a complex and complicated character. At first, I just couldn't connect with this guy. But as the story develops, you get to see under his "skin"....how his childhood shaped the person he became.
“It doesn't matter where you come from. There's nothing you can do about it, so don't waste your energy thinking about it. What matters is where you're going. And that, mate, is something you can control.”
You see his dedication and loyalty to his family, especially his mentally ill sister,. and the strong work ethics and sense of duty he has. He's a by-the-books detective and for him there is no such thing as the colour grey...it's black and white and he makes sure that his rookie partner knows that from the beginning...
“If you think you’re a success, you will be a success; if you think you deserve nothing but crap, you’ll get nothing but crap. Your inner reality shapes your outer one, every day of your life.”
Kennedy, as mentor to the rookie, is a things are black and white detective trying to educate Richie on his personal rules of investigation and interrogation.

by the end of the book, I actually liked him....felt as if I knew him really well...well, I thought I did until the author surprises me with a twisty cliff-hanger!!!

This is a character driven story, where the police procedures, the forensics, the investigation helps the character development. It's a story of family relationships, the yearning to belong.
“ “I remember this country back when I was growing up. We went to church, we ate family suppers around the table, and it would never even have crossed a kid’s mind to tell an adult to fuck off. There was plenty of bad there, I don’t forget that, but we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn’t break the rules lightly. If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this: people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbours, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero.”
A deep exploration of human emotions, loss, sadness, madness, fate..... set in a place that fits in with the crime and mystery....Brianstown is not a pretty place...it is isolated, bleak, barren, desolate where the wind blows relentlessly over the town and roiling waves that crash into the sand.

There is no sunshine or light here....the resolution to the murder mystery is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

After the disappointment in her previous book, Faithful Place, I was unsure if I wanted to continue with the series...but I am glad I did....because this was really a good addition.

And after 4 books, I have reached this conclusion.......Tana French's writing is absolutely brilliant....
“I have always been caught by the pull of the unremarkable, by the easily missed, infinitely nourishing beauty of the mundane.”
Her prose is brilliant, evocative and her characters and place are so vividly descriptive.

I am definetly going to continue with this series.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,919 reviews10.6k followers
September 14, 2015
In a lonely development on the Irish Sea, two children and their father are dead and the mother is on death's door. Who killed them? That's what Scorcher Kennedy and his new partner, Richie, mean to find out. Will what they find destroy them?

Broken Harbour is the story of one man's obsession with order and a family's gradual descent into chaos. When Pat Spain gets downsized, things start falling apart for the Spain family but was it enough for Pat to kill his family and himself?

Scorcher Kennedy is a typical Tana French lead. He's probably as damaged as the criminals he's been chasing all these years, obsessed with order and being the best. He's got some skeletons in his closet, namely his mother's suicide when he was 15 and his crazy sister Dina.

The relationship between Scorcher and his new partner, Richie, drive the book and set it apart from typical cop dramas. Richie is the sensitivity Scorcher lost somewhere along the way and maybe also his conscience.
As Scorcher and Richie tug at the loose threads of the case, the story gradually shifts toward what it's like to have a relative that's insane.

French's writing is as fantastic as ever, parsecs ahead of most crime books. She paints a vivid picture and Scorcher and Richie seemed like cops that could show up on your doorstep after the neighbors have a fight. As usual, the entire cast goes through the meat grinder, leaving little to do at the end but wiping down the counter and turning off the light.

Broken Harbour was my favorite Tana French book yet and one of the best two or three books I've read so far this year. Five out of five stars.
Profile Image for carol..
1,532 reviews7,857 followers
May 4, 2020
I'm going to do two things I almost never do.
First, I'll tell you how to read: Sit down and pay attention to this book. Read in large, uninterrupted blocks of time. Trust me; you will better be able to appreciate French's character evolution (or dissolution) and the many layers of the plot become all the more shocking when they've had the chance to properly build.

The second thing I rarely do: spoiler part of my review. For my memory and discussion's sake, I must be specific.

Once again, French impresses. This time she pulls in interesting plotting followed by astonishing character development. Yet it is unsettling enough that I don't know if it will get a second read. That's okay--parts of it are still etched in my mind.

Scorcher Kennedy is one of the stars of the Murder Squad. Although he's recently come off a case that's left him with a figurative black eye (one of the earlier books, and for the life of me, I can't remember why), he gets a chance to shine when an entire suburban family is found murdered and he catches the case. His new partner is a rookie early in his Murder career, and somewhat unusually, becomes second when Kennedy vouches for him. Like all French's narrators, Kennedy has a troubled past, coincidentally tied to the same area as the murder case.

Perhaps that is part of French's overall message--the people drawn to solving horrific crime are as troubled as the victims and criminals. This time, however, French challenges herself with a narrator and protagonist who is not altogether likeable, and whose strength is his meticulous attention to detail. He delineates his world into black and white, and his neat organization constrains her ability to vividly flavor a world. Still, she sneaks in a bit of vivid imagery here and there:

"Only teenagers think boring is bad. Adults, grown men and women who've been around the block a few times, know that boring is a gift straight from God." (p.11)

"It made her shoulder jump, the sudden feel of our fingers probing deep into their lives." (p.251).

"I could smell the hospital off her, disinfected and polluting."

"There was a moment of silence that could have sliced skin."

Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,558 followers
June 26, 2014
There are certain things I pride myself on - the ability to read through a tremendous racket without losing my thread of concentration, the audacity to share my blasphemous distaste for pizzas with pizza worshippers who then proceed to shoot me death glares, and more pertinently, the way I don't balk at rating a piece of mainstream literature 5 stars if it has shown the grit to discard gimmickry and preserve that golden human touch.

How ingeniously Tana French subverts the formulaic plotting of a 'psychological thriller', poking and prodding at the darkness we prefer to bury under the gloss of make-believe contentment until it becomes a threat of gargantuan proportions. How masterfully she paints this picture of a family marooned at the thin divide between normalcy and utter chaos, dangling precariously from the edge of oblivion. How mercilessly she concocts such a heart-wrenching tragedy where the lines between culpability and innocence are blurred to the point that both merge into a single entity, where the victims are just as unwittingly drawn to the dark side as the perpetrators and the ones entrusted with the task of rectifying the wrongs done.

Sometimes the ugliness of visible reality is nothing but the tip of the iceberg and the truth is like a lightning bolt from the blue, capable of shattering the glass mansion of denial we prefer to live in. The truth runs much deeper, past the shallow defenses offered by skin and flesh, inexorably slicing through our bones.
"In that moment I thought of Broken Harbor: of my summer haven, awash with the curves of water and the loops of seabirds and the long falls of silver-gold light through sweet air; of muck and craters and raw-edged walls where human beings had beat their retreat. For the first time in my life, I saw the place for what it was: lethal, shaped and honed for destruction..."

'Broken Harbour' is about the proverbial monsters of our own creation lurking in the shadows biding their time to harm what we cherish the most, the slow disintegration of that 'good life' we have put together bit by bit and how sometimes cause does not precede effect. And it is a sad acknowledgement of the fact that a horrendous fate may lie in ambush for the sinless and unsuspecting.

For the ones who steer clear of 'murder mystery novels' for their stereotypical compartmentalization of crime and detective work, I dare you to read this particular Tana French creation and remain unaffected.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,718 reviews12.8k followers
February 15, 2017
Tana French continues to amaze with her fourth stunning Dublin Murder Squad novel, proving that binge-reading this series was a wonderful February treat. After playing a minor role in Faithful Place, Mike 'Scorcher' Kennedy is able to steal the spotlight and prove readers why he is the Squad's star detective. Assigned to work with rookie Detective Richie Curran, Kennedy picks up a brutal assault/murder over in Brianstown, colloquially known as Broken Harbour. When they arrive, the detectives discover Pat Spain and his two children dead, with wife Jenny stabbed and barely clinging to life. Preliminary sleuthing shows that the Spains were deeply in debt, well on their way to insolvency, which might pose as the strongest motive for Pat to have committed this heinous crime. As he mentors young Curran on the ins and outs of homicide investigation, Kennedy wrestles to keep his history with Broken Harbour from surfacing; a mother who committed suicide over twenty years before. If that were not enough, Kennedy's sister, Dina, has taken a turn for the worse. Her eccentric ways are not always handled completely with the medication she has been prescribed, leaving Dina to be a danger to herself and those in her immediate vicinity. Kennedy vows not to let Dina know that this case has brought him back to Broken Harbour, concerned that the mere mention of it might re-open the abyss of Dina's deep-rooted mental health concerns. The high-profile nature of the case is making that more difficult by the hour, forcing Kennedy and Curran to work quickly. After staking out the home, Kennedy and Curran find Conor Brennan literally lurking in the bushes and bring him in for questioning. It is at this point that the case and the novel take significant twists, particularly as computer forensics provide Kennedy and Curran an interesting glimpse into the life of Pat Spain and his daily struggles. How closely tied is Brennan to the Spains' demise and what truths lurk on the World Wide Web that could blow the case wide open? French toys with the reader throughout this story and paces her narrative in such a way that the suspense grows with every page-turn. Another fascinating glimpse into the world of the Irish police procedural that does not disappoint, no matter where you live.

While it may seem that I am rushing through these novels, I can assure everyone that they have my full attention. The art of novel writing is one that French has discovered and honed over a number of years, proving that she is worth every accolade presented. The use of a fourth different protagonist is not only a brilliant move to keep the story fresh, but it forces the reader to pay close attention and not gloss over some of the background development. With new characters emerging in each novel, French has been forced to craft them carefully and this novel does an exceptional job of linking their stories to the larger narrative. While the story progresses naturally, French uses the perfect amount of Irish brogue to give the reader a sense that they are right in the action, working out of Dublin Castle alongside Kennedy, Curran, and the other members of the Squad. She is also able to inject a theme that permeates the entire story and branches out as needed; in this instance, control in all its forms. While Kennedy might need to control his underling, Curran, he is also forced to offer a sibling protection/control of Dina when she flies off the rails. French also insinuates that there is a strong need for self-control among a number of characters, including Kennedy, Curran, and Pat Spain, though its success is measured in varying degrees throughout the story. One might also see control in the form of online research or technological devices scattered around the Spain household as Pat attempts to create digital omnipotence to battle the issue that arises throughout the narrative. Finally, the ever-present surveillance done by Conor Brennan shows an attempt to control the lives of others without their knowledge. French pushes that the more we seek to control a situation, the less we are able to manage it. In the end, it is an acceptance of a lack of control over minutiae that could save us from ourselves. I only hope that makes some degree of sense, as it rattled around my brain for much of the novel's slow and steady momentum. I forge onwards to find out what French has in store for readers in the next instalment, though I will take a moment to absorb all that has been offered up and the power of a French novel to move me.

Kudos, Madam French for making this binge-reading adventure one that has helped me discover that I have no control when it comes to superior writing and the authors at the helm. I just may have found some of my best reading of 2017 in your collection of novels.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,049 followers
April 11, 2020
This was a good story with plenty of excellent police work and, for the most part, an interesting relationship between Michael Kennedy and his new partner Richie Curran.

Kennedy is the Dublin Murder Squads' star detective and he has a very high opinion of himself. As he is the narrator we hear his opinions, but we can see from how he deals with others that he is arrogant and single minded. Curran on the other hand is a sympathetic and caring person and brings a balance to their partnership.

The crime they are investigating is horrific and involves the deaths of two small children. I thought that the manner of their death should have pointed the detectives to one possible suspect straight away but there were a million red herrings which led the detectives and the reader in several different directions.

One thing I did not like about the book was the lack of real resolution. The animal in the attic occupies so much reading time and then fizzles out. The explanation of the murders goes on for pages but does not genuinely justify the killers rationale.

Nevertheless a good book, well worth reading and one that leaves you thinking about it for a good while after closing that last page.
January 18, 2014
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. Second glance, the grass needed weeding and there were gaps in the footpaths. Third glance, something was wrong.

“The village of the damned.”
Every master of horror knows that true fear does not originate from a basement, fear crawls up through your spine through the emptiness of a vast, vacant room. Fear comes from isolation, and isolation happens even when you are not physically alone. That is what this book does so well. I never knew that a book---a mystery, not even a horror---could inspire so much tension within me. I never knew a book could create such an atmosphere of claustrophobia.

I wish I could quote entire pages from this book. The writing is just so spectacular.

I truly think Tana French is one of the best crime authors I have ever read---more than that, her skill with the written word is extraordinary. I have been a fan of all her books, and three out of the four books that she has ever written have made it into my "all time favorite" list. Some authors just have an absolute command of the genre. I cannot sing my praises for her loudly enough. I have yet to review the first or second book in the series, because like many of my favorite books...my words of praise feels utterly incompetent whenever I try to express my love for the books that I admire so much.

Here's my first attempt at convincing you to read this book.

If there is a way to make murder beautiful, Tana French has the task in hand. I do not mean that she glorifies violence and death in any way, more that she writes about it so well, be it the psychological implications of it for all the people involved, to the gut-wrenching details of the murder as the case unfolds.

The writing is beautiful, not purple prosy in the least. It is intensely descriptive, deeply evocative, while maintaining the utmost sparsity in words. The writing may be poetic, but rest assured that this is a crime novel. There is a time and place for language redolent with meaning, and it does not encroach upon the investigation. The details of the crime scene, the interrogation of the witnesses, the analysis of the crime itself are expertly written, without any excessive romanticization the use of language. People talk like real people. People answer like real people. The poetic language is restricted to moments of personal introspection, no more. Language is used to its utmost effectiveness within this book. Everything remains in its place.

The Summary: There has been a murder in Broken Harbour, an estate (a planned community) in Ireland. Broken Harbour was once planned out to be a grand place, a community for families. It was supposed to be a rolling success.

But things don't always go as planned. Things fall apart. As does the real estate market.

Broken Harbour may have been started, but it will never be finished. Halfway through the building of the community, money ran out. The real estate market collapsed. What remains is the skeletons of a community, sparsely inhabited by desperate families who are trying to make the best of their isolation.

Broken Harbour is a ghost town, inhabited by ghosts. Haunted by the sea, haunted by dreams of what it could have been.
“That place was creepy. Those hills, I always felt like they were staring at me, like something crawling on my neck, I kept wanting to—” She smacked the back of her neck, a vicious reflexive slap that made me flinch. “And the noise, Jesus Christ. The sea, the wind, the gulls, all these weird noises that you could never figure out what they were… I had nightmares practically every night that some sea monster thing stuck its tentacles in the caravan window and started strangling me. I bet you anything someone died building that shitty estate, like the Titanic.”
Detective Kennedy has been called out to a case in Broken Harbour. A murder. A dead father downstairs, splattered in blood. A mother, barely clinging onto life. And then there are the dead children. Little Jack and Emma.
You would almost have listened to hear him breathing, except something in his face told you. He had the secret calm that only dead children have, paper-thin eyelids sealed tight as unborn babies’, as if when the world goes killer they turn inwards and backwards, back to that first safe place.
As the case unfolds, secrets come out. There are cracks everywhere. Cracks within an ideal marriage. Cracks within the foundation of their lives, the desperation that comes with the onset of financial instability.
It can scour away at a lifetime of mild, peaceful decency until all that’s left is teeth and claws and terror. You could almost catch the stench of fear, dank as rotting seaweed, coming up from the dark space at the back of the closet where the Spains had kept their monsters locked down.
And then there are the cracks in the wall. The actual, physical cracks in the wall. A hole clearly made by man, smashed in by a hammer. The claws in the wall, so big that they looked like they had been caused by a jaguar. The things, the creatures that are tormenting the family living there. Something that would cause the inhabitants to lose their mind, to seek help online, posting to an internet forum trying to find out what is going on in the attic. Something that has driven an ordinary man, a loving husband, a devoted father, to gradually lose his mind.
Look you pack of wankers I am NOT A FUCKING TROLL OK???? I know you spend all your time on this board but I actually have a fucking LIFE, if I was going to waste my time messing w someones head it wouldnt be you lot of losers, just trying to deal w WHAT IS IN MY ATTIC + if you useless twats cant help me w that then you can FUCK OFF.
The Characters: This book is psychologically wracking, emotionally wrenching, it gave me a tremendous amount of apprehension. This is what a crime novel should be. Detective Kennedy has personality. He is not imperfect, he is a grown ass man, one who is damned good at his job, and it shows. He is a good man, he is not perfect. He makes wrong judgments sometimes. This is an enormously straining case, it is a huge murder that has the media up in storms. It is Detective Kennedy's ass on the line if he screws it up. He is under an enormous amount of strain. I found him to be an exceptionally believable, sympathetic, unflinching character. He has a job to do, and damned if he doesn't do it well.
“Murder is nature. Hadn’t you noticed that? People maiming each other, raping each other, killing each other, doing all the stuff that animals do: that’s nature in action. Nature is the devil I’m fighting, chum. Nature is my worst enemy. If it isn’t yours, then you’re in the wrong fucking gig.”
In any good crime novel, everyone needs to be realistic. You will not be disappointed by the character development in this book, from the smallest character to the mains, everyone feels real.

The Psychological Tension: More than anything else, this book builds up the feeling of anxiety so well. I said that this book filled me with claustrophobia, and I mean it. Tension is everywhere, whether it's the ghost town that is Broken Harbour itself, to the mystery gradually unfolding, or the cracks that emerge in the picture-perfect family. The tension gets to the detective himself, as Kennedy finds himself on tenterhooks throughout the case.
I sat on the edge of the bed, pressing circles into my palm with the barrel of the gun and wishing for something I could shoot, listening to the waves sigh like some great sleeping animal and trying to remember turning the strip light on.
The mystery of the attic, the unfolding of the crime, the fear of what lies underneath fills me with chills. Broken Harbour leaves me wanting to seek the comfort of my warm bed, and the arms of someone who will tell me that everything will be all right, somehow.
In that moment I thought of Broken Harbor: of my summer haven, awash with the curves of water and the loops of seabirds and the long falls of silver-gold light through sweet air; of muck and craters and raw-edged walls where human beings had beat their retreat. For the first time in my life, I saw the place for what it was: lethal, shaped and honed for destruction as expertly as the trap lurking in the Spains’ attic.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
828 reviews760 followers
July 24, 2012
I’ve been an avid fan of Tana French since her chilling debut novel, In the Woods, a poetically written murder mystery that combined police procedural with psychological thriller. She writes evocatively about solitary adults afflicted by damaged childhoods. Her novels go beyond the murder cases and weave layered tales about memories, the search for identity, the healing of broken families, and the social and economic issues of contemporary Ireland. Broken Harbor will satisfy old enthusiasts and hook new ones alike with its complex characters, detailed plot, moving themes and fresh, taut dialogue.

The narrator is Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, a tough, flinty cop introduced in French’s third novel, Faithful Place. Here he is fleshed out as a media-savvy and taciturn (and surprisingly sensitive) crackerjack detective with a reputation to fix. He is assigned to a murder that occurred in the affluent but half-abandoned suburb of Brianstown, which used to be called Broken Harbor. This is sure to be a high profile case: the fatal stabbing of a family man, Patrick Spain, and the suffocation of his two young children. His wife, Jenny, a victim of multiple knife wounds, is in critical condition at the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Kennedy has a resonant family history with BH, reaching back to childhood summer vacations with his mother (who died years ago) and two sisters. One sister, Dina, is emotionally unstable, volatile and flammable, and pops in unannounced at inconvenient times. Kennedy is protective of Dina, but her labile moods and confrontational behaviors are particularly vexing to him during this investigation. Each day that he works on the case has him scratching at the past, exposing his dark torments to the light, as he gets closer to the private lives of the Spain family.

Kennedy chooses a rookie cop, Richie Curran, to help him solve the murder in an upscale housing development, one of many communities that have suffered from Dublin's economic recession. Patrick, they learn from Jenny's sister, Fiona, had been laid off from his job months ago, and the historically happy couple were challenged by recession-era fates. Does this factor into the murder? And why are there so many irregular holes in the walls?

The story unfolds gradually, with dense and convoluted character descriptions buoyed by an unhurried pace. It begins with a fact-finding mission, as all her books do, and expands its focus to a poignant examination of family, as well as the socio-economic milieu of Dublin that affects the quality of everyday lives. From the quotidian to the uncommon, French’s story encompasses loss, love, and redemption, and wraps around the reader in an elaborate maze.

All the books are loosely connected by a non-narrating character from one novel showing up as the narrator in the next. In this way, nobody suffers from too much exposure (which leads to a tendency to flatten out over time). Instead, the author continues to expand on her vivid portrait of Ireland’s working classes with her socially observant eye and sumptuous, moving prose.

Her talent for mining subconscious fears and desires borders on the spectral, with a finesse that keeps it real but laces it with gothic menace. For devotees longing for Rob and Cassie to return, you may be initially disappointed at their absence. However, you’ll let it go once you engage in this spellbinding tale.

The prose-rich Tana French will be music to your ears. Here is how Scorcher sees the fragile, sonorous beauty of Broken Harbor:

"I looked out over the water, into the night that was coming in on the tide...The beach looked like something I had seen in an old film, once upon a time; that hotheaded boy felt like a character from some book I had read and given away in childhood. Only, somewhere far inside my spine and deep in the palms of my hands, something hummed; like a sound too low to hear, like a warning, like a cello string when a tuning fork strikes the perfect tone to call it awake."
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
871 reviews1,760 followers
September 19, 2020
Tana French is a author that I see on my home page frequently. Most of her books are claimed to be the best in their genre. so i was super excited to start this book and i think this was my biggest mistake.

While this started as a really gripping story with murder of a family and our detectives, Scorcher and Curran, searching for the murderer like hounds. They had their ups and down during the case. The newbie, Curran, showed a lot of potential during the investigation. He was like the fresh air. Scorcher was good but didn't want to see beyond a point and if not for Curran, he would have sent an innocent to prison.

I also didn't like personal/past story of Scorcher. I get it what happened in childhood deeply effected him and Diana, but somehow I am unable to justify how they both behave in present for that tragedy.

But the biggest disappointment for me was the climax. I just can't believe murderer's confession. Whatever reason was given as the purpose of triple murders, I just can't go with it.

I will still read another book in the series before giving up on this series.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,343 reviews4,864 followers
November 13, 2021

This is the fourth book in Tana French's 'Dublin Murder Squad' series, but - like the others - it can be read as a standalone.


Patrick and Jenny Spain and their two young children - Emma and Jack - living in an unfinished, decaying housing development in Brianstown (formerly Broken Harbor) Ireland are attacked.

Patrick and the children are dead and Jenny is barely alive.

Mike ("Scorcher") Kennedy and his rookie partner Richie Curran are assigned the case.

As usual with Tana French's books one of the detectives (in this case Scorcher Kennedy) has an unfortunate history with the murder locale. When Scorcher was a child his family spent summer vacations at Broken Harbor and it was there that his mother committed suicide.

Moreover, the tragedy apparently triggered mental illness in Scorcher's sister Dina, who has episodes of paranoia and erratic behavior.

When Scorcher and Richie begin to investigate the Spain calamity Patrick emerges as an early likely suspect. The recession has led to the loss of his high-paying job and the formerly happy family has been experiencing severe money problems.

The Spains have had to give up their SUV, their friends, their social life, their recreational activities, and a good part of their self-respect. Maybe Patrick wanted to end all the suffering? However, further investigation reveals that the Spains seem to have attracted a couple of stalkers: one human and one elusive animal that ostensibly crawls through their house at will.

Questioning Jenny, the Spains' relatives, and their rather unsavory neighbors provides a number of clues to the crimes as does information gleaned from the Spains incompletely erased computer files. Scorcher and Richie don't agree about who the prime suspect should be, which leads to some friction between them.

However the two detectives seem to work well together and Scorcher thinks about a possibly enduring partnership. And - at least for this case - Scorcher can use the help. His sister Dina, seeing the name "Broken Harbor" in the news has had a break-down and Scorcher is compelled to take care of her.

I don't want to give away spoilers so I'll just say that this well-written story has compelling characters and interesting twists, all of which lead to a satisfying, believable conclusion. A great addition to Tana French's mystery series.

You can follow my reviews at http://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for James Thane.
Author 9 books6,915 followers
June 10, 2013
This is another excellent psychological crime novel from Tana French. In this case the book features another member of the Dublin Murder Squad, Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, who first appeared in a minor role in French's last book, Faithful Place.

Kennedy has the best solve rate on the squad. He's the star, and thus when a particularly brutal homicide occurs, Mick is assigned to the case. He's also teamed with a new young partner, Richie Curran, and, in addition to catching a killer, he's expected to show Richie the ropes and make a real detective out of him.

The case itself is a stomach-turner: a young family has been attacked; the father and two children are dead, and the mother is in intensive care, barely clinging to life. The scene is as desolate as can be imagined: a new seaside housing estate outside of Dublin named Brianstown that was only partially completed when the recession hit Ireland with full force and brought development to a screeching halt.

Mick and Richie arrive on the scene, out in the middle of nowhere, to find a scattered group of luxury houses, half of which sit unfinished and only a few of which are occupied. The victims, the Spain family, had been among the first to move in, enticed by the glossy brochures that promised a beautiful, luxurious lifestyle by the sea.

It didn't quite turn out that way, and the Spains are victims of the economic collapse twice over. They're trapped is this failing housing development and Pat Spain, the husband, father and sole breadwinner in the family, has lost his job in the downturn. Things have been very rough and getting worse for the Spains over the last several months, and the evidence initially suggests that Pat Spain may have gone over the edge, killed his children and attempted to murder his wife before taking his own life.

But it soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more going on here than may have initially appeared, and some very strange, seemingly inexplicable things have been going on recently in the life of this family. It's a very unsettling case, especially for Mick Kennedy, who has his own memories of this setting by the sea.

Back before the developers bought the property and renamed it Brianstown, the place was known as Broken Harbor, and Mick's family spent a couple of weeks there every summer until a tragedy struck the family. The repercussions of that event are still reverberating through Kennedy's life as he tackles this current tragic case, and the combination of the two incidents may be enough to overwhelm even the superstar of the Dublin Murder Squad.

French has created here another cast of unforgettable characters, both among the family members who are the victims of the crime and the detectives who must attempt to solve it. For all his confidence, Mick Kennedy is a deeply troubled man and French will push him to the very limit. Beyond the case itself, this book also vividly conveys the havoc unleashed by the economic collapse and the consequences it produced for so many innocent victims.

One thinks of a harbor as a place of refuge, as a place where you can breathe a deep sigh of relief as you arrive home safely from a long journey. Sadly though, this Broken Harbor is anything but a place of refuge, and the people who find themselves there are anything but safe.

Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,910 followers
August 19, 2012
3.5 stars

Netterooski's Top Five Suggestions For Alternate Titles:

The Critter In the Crawlspace
A Rodent In the Rafters
The Monitor Murders
Paddy's Pretend Pet?
Video Vermin

If you've read the book, the above needs no explanation. If you haven't yet read it, prepare yourself for obsessive coverage of animal behavior.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews808 followers
August 12, 2016
The fourth novel by Tana French and #4 in a series narrated by a detective of or working with the Murder Squad in Dublin would've been a convenient spot for the bestselling author to go on auto-pilot and take a coffee break. She's earned it, writing three phenomenal novels in steady succession. Published in 2012, there are major challenges with this one, not only to spin another intoxicating murder mystery, but do so with main characters who seem to be running for Prick of the Year honors. In spite of this, French had me wrapped around her pinkie finger and wide awake until I reached the end of her latest novel.

In this follow-up to In the Woods, The Likeness and Faithful Place, French continues her beguiling pattern of retrieving a supporting character from her previous novel and casting them as the narrator of the sequel. Broken Harbor centers on Detective Mick Kennedy, alias "Scorcher," a Murder detective considered an also-ran on a squad he knows he should be top dog in. Readers familiar with the previous entry know that Scorcher was usurped on a cold case by one of his own floaters after he locked in on the wrong suspect. Familiarity with French's previous books is optional and not a factor to enjoying this one, which takes off like a rocket.

Scorcher is called back into the limelight when a high profile case lands in the squad room and Superintendent O'Kelly gives him the honors: a husband, wife and two kids have been slain in their home. The wife is in the hospital and might not make it, the rest of her family are dead. The victims were discovered by the wife's sister in a village called Brianstown, the sort of housing development that sprang up overnight in Ireland during the housing boom. Scorcher knows the place by its old name, Broken Harbor, when it was nothing but sand dunes, a pub, a few scattered houses and lots for caravans, like those Scorcher's family used to rent for summer retreats there.

Also on the case is Richie Curran, Scorcher's rookie partner who's been with the squad for two weeks and hasn't learned how to dress himself properly, favoring hoodies that make him look more like a mugger than a Murder detective. Scorcher vouches for the kid with his superior, taking pride in passing his knowledge on to the youngster. On the hour-long drive to the home of Patrick and Jennifer Spain, Scorcher's radar is already pinging on why Fiona Rafferty dropped work to drive to her sister's house on the basis of one missed phone call. Richie proposes the sister might live next door.

"Then why drive? If she's too far away to walk, then she's far enough away that her going over there is odd. And here's Rule Number Two: when someone's behavior is odd, that's a little present just for you, and you don't let go of it till you've got it unwrapped. This isn't Motor Vehicles, Richie. In this gig, you don't get to say, 'Ah, sure, it's probably not important, she was just in a funny mood that day, let's forget it.' Ever."

The detectives notice something eerie about Brianstown before they even find the Spains' home. Most of the houses look alike and not many of them have vehicles in the driveway. The grass needs cutting. Some of the homes are simply walls and scaffolding, with no heavy equipment or builders to be seen. There aren't any people to be seen either. The detectives are only able to find the crime scene when Scorcher hears the screams of Fiona Rafferty, who's in the driveway with the two uniformed officers who found the bodies and called the Murder Squad.

Scorcher takes Richie inside the house for a preliminary walk-through, curious to see how the rookie will respond to a homicide scene as much as for the opportunity to study that scene by themselves. At first glance, the house appears in perfect order. The Spains had an alarm system. Then Scorcher notices the holes in the walls. One of the holes has been partially covered up by furniture, an indication that whatever was going on here happened before last night. Staring at the holes, Kennedy gets a familiar feeling.

That was when I felt it: that needle-like vibration, starting in my temples and moving down the bones into my eardrums. Some detectives feel it in the backs of their necks, some get it in the backs of their necks, some get it in the hair of their arms--I know one poor sap who gets it in the bladder, which can be inconvenient--but all the good ones feel it somewhere. It gets me in the skull bones. Call it what you want--social deviance, psychological disturbance, the animal within, evil if you believe in that: it's the thing we spend our lives chasing. All the training in the world won't give you that warning when it comes close. You get it or you don't.

Moving on from Pat's corpse, the detectives head upstairs, where Emma and Jack Spain appear to be been smothered in their beds. Richie is the one who observes the five baby-monitors the Spains have installed around the house. Interviewing Fiona, they learn that she grew up in Monkstown with Pat and Jennifer, who've all known each other since they were kids. Pat worked as a recruiter for financial services until the recession made him redundant, while Jennifer had been afforded to quit her job in PR. There were no problems between the couple, who seemed to have it all. Scorcher finds a different story in their bank statements. Money was getting scarce in the household.

Detective Kennedy is a firm believer in simplicity, in taking the explanation with the least number of extras tacked on, but the deeper he gets into the case, the more chaotic it becomes. Along with the holes in the walls, an animal trap is discovered in the attic. Someone erased the browser history from the Spains' PC, but when recovered by Computer Crime, it reveals Pat was seeking frantic help for an animal he was convinced was loose in the attic, and later, in the walls. Jennifer Spain pulls through her injuries, but has no memory of the attack and is resolute to the detectives that nothing out of of the ordinary was occurring prior to the crimes. Scorcher knows she's lying.

While Detective Kennedy develops a good rapport with Richie Curran -- who demonstrates a knack for coaxing witnesses and suspects into opening up -- he keeps his personal life personal. This becomes vital when Scorcher's emotionally damaged younger sister Dina shows up at his apartment, pressing Mick to take time off and spend it with her. Dina has been a high-wire act in need of monitoring most of her life, ever since their mother wandered into the surf of Broken Harbor on one of their family trips and drowned herself. Scorcher worries how Dina will react when she learns of his case in Broken Harbor, though it becomes clear to Dina and Richie that Scorcher is the one who needs help.

Broken Harbor was not a novel I fell in love with on first blush and much of that had to do with the main character. "Scorcher" is the sort of macho prick that can be found at any 24-Hour Fitness. He has sharp instincts and is a professional when it comes to managing a homicide investigation. He isn't good with people. He admits to the reader that his job would've been easier if Jennifer Spain had not recovered from her injuries; interviewing her in the hospital makes Scorcher visibly uncomfortable. His chilly aloofness is warmed by the inclusion of a rookie partner, who is all too sympathetic to the suffering around him. Scorcher patiently takes Richie, and the reader, through a murder case, beginning with what clothes to wear and why. This I loved.

Post-mortems are brutal things. This is the part that always catches rookies off guard; they expect delicacy, tiny scalpels and precision cuts, and instead they get bread knives sawing fast careless gashes, skin ripped back like sticky paper. Cooper at work looks more like a butcher than a surgeon. He doesn't need to take care to minimize scarring, hold his breath making sure not to nick an artery. The flesh he works on isn't precious any more. When Cooper is done with a body, no one will ever need it, ever again.

Not only is French's prose intimate, direct and terse, not only is her dialogue cut with wit and vigor, but her confidence is off the charts. She knows her territory so well that she eclipses merely crafting an elaborate whodunit. Her novels are filled with secrets about why human beings get along the way we do, where we've been and where we're headed. Broken Harbor is the first in the series set after the global financial crisis and while we see how those events can transform a housing estate to a ghost town that's picture perfect for a mystery, French also shows us how .

With each new novel, Tana French has spun together a compelling mystery, an evocative setting and taut interrogation scenes -- Broken Harbor features a four-alarm between Scorcher and a family of nosy white trash neighbors he's had enough of having enough with -- but the reason I've pinned five stars on each of these books has more to do with how they compel me to think and feel something.

French finds ways to make the impersonal feel personal: a friendship that proves too painful to endure, a desire to live someone's life, an obsession with the girl who got away. I didn't relate to Scorcher at first, but French isn't exploring a cop living a regimented existence. With Broken Harbor, she's exploring I realized that if Scorcher could figure out one mystery, he could unlock the one that was more important.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,129 followers
December 5, 2020
I hate the suburbs. I've written about this before in other reviews, and I'll say it again: they give me the creeps. I grew up in an old suburb of Montreal, but the undeveloped land between the towns was slowly being filled in by developers who ripped trees off, dug big holes and built the skeletons of McMansions all over the place. I used to ride my bike through those bizarre streets because I was curious to see what they were doing, and it gave me a very unpleasant feeling every time, like something malevolent was hiding under the plastic tarps or behind the piles of gravel. So I had no problem imagining an estate, left behind by the builders, that gives off more of an apocalyptic vibe than that of a place filled with potential and promises.

Brianstown used to be a small vacation spot called Broken Harbour; but real estate developers got it, and decided to turn it into one of those nightmare suburbs. When the crash hit, they couldn't continue the work and abandoned the site, a few hurriedly built houses inhabited, but most of them empty, half finished, far from everything. That's where Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is sent, to investigate a domestic drama: two children dead, a wife and husband stabbed. Miraculously, the wife is still alive, and is rushed to the intensive care, but until she wakes, it's up to Kennedy, and his partner, a young rookie named Richie Curran, to figure out what happened. But Kennedy's past connects him to Broken Harbour, and being there stirs up some long dormant dust about his mother, and his highly volatile younger sister.

As usual in a Dublin Murder Squad book, this is not so much about whodunit, but more about why and about looking at the layers under the surface of everyone involved. Tana French's characters are always richly imagined, full of oddities. They don't have skeletons in their closets per se, but they have a few weird bones rattling around in there, and their flaws and often painful humanity is what keeps me going back to these books again and again.

We met Scorcher in "Faithful Place" (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and I didn't really like him: he seemed arrogant, overly groomed and full of himself. Well, people like that usually put that show on to make sure you don't see the vulnerabilities under the fancy coat. The first thing I had to admit was that Kennedy is a damned good detective, and I was impressed with the way he coaches and guides Richie through the investigation. They make a very good team, but as usual with a Tana French story, that is not meant to last... The story of his mother, and of his (probably schizophrenic) younger sister is heartbreaking: Dina was written realistically and respectfully. French understands that mental illness is complicated, that people who suffer from such things live not only with their disease, but with the burden of knowing they are a factor of worry and frustration to their loved ones.

Now you may wonder why this is the first Dublin Murder Squad book to get 4 stars and not 5. This rating is truly a direct result of this book being the most verbose, for lack of a better word, of the entire series so far. Huge chunks of the books are dialogue, and while it is very well written dialogue, I missed the inner monologue that usually fuels these novels. Rob's and Frank's voices had carried their books along without too many long-winded conversations, and I had loved being in their heads; I supposed I would have enjoyed spending some time in Mick's. That, and I simply detested Jenny Spain: those women who absolutely need everything to be perfect and normal make me hiss, and I think there is something deeply pathological about their need for everything to be Stepford ship-shape. I get that you can't have a story set in the suburbs without a woman like that, but... ew...

Despite those flaws, I was completely fascinated from the first to the last page, and while I had an inkling as to whom the culprit was, the "what the fuck" factors of the investigation were still riveting, as were the inner struggles of everyone involved. Do not miss this one if you are already a fan of this amazing series!
Profile Image for Step.
367 reviews
September 27, 2012
Much better than the third book in the series, and some great buildup, as always, but UGH, Tana French needs to learn to stick the landing. I'm still frustrated over the ending of the first book, and only the second has had an ending deserving of the previous x pages. With this one, unrealistic character choices makes for an ending that doesn't quite make any sense, and certainly doesn't match the journey we took to get there. But, it was better than the third book? Now can we PLEASE find out what happened to Adam?
Profile Image for Left Coast Justin.
389 reviews76 followers
May 9, 2022
There were a couple of times, reading this, when I nearly just put this down and walked away. Given my rabid Tana French fandom, my appreciation for her writing, this is hard to fathom, but this book....It isn't happy. I don't think the word 'entertainment' can be stretched to accommodate something like this, I really don't. And I really can't think of any useful way to review it.

People respond to stress in different ways, but I generally believe that one's mental state comes from within; that everybody is handed stressful situations in life, and most people find a way to bounce back. This book makes the opposite argument -- when stresses pile up, and there truly appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, when one's imagination cannot stretch to even imagine happiness ever occurring again, how will people behave? This book suggests that Justin is far too optimistic about this, and perfectly rational people do not simply bounce back, but can be literally driven to insanity by circumstances. If you have the emotional capacity to step back from this story a bit, it can be read as an indictment of speculative real estate bubbles and fast-buck developers run amok in Ireland.

Hack writers like V.C. Andrews have written awful books in terrible prose about insanity. On balance, I'd rather read something like that than Tana French, who writes with such skill, who gets inside your head and plants evil things there. The four stars are for skill -- one less because I didn't find the final conclusion to this mystery believable. This is because I am naive, I fear, not because she is wrong -- and that's exactly the problem.

A perfect companion read to this book is a tragically nonfictional essay, and hit me like a hammer when I read it. BUT THE TITLE IS A SERIOUS SPOILER: YOU'VE BEEN WARNED .

Buddy read with Nataliya, without whom I probably wouldn't of finished it. Thank you, my friend. And I think carol. articulated my feelings for this book far better than I have been able to do.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
December 28, 2017
Another great thriller from Tana French!

Broken Harbor is the fourth book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and it follows Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and his rookie partner, Richie, who are trying to solve the murders of a father and his two children. The mother survived the attack, but doesn't remember much. Besides working on the case, Scorcher is also trying to deal with his mentally ill sister who keeps causing trouble.

One of the things I especially liked about Broken Harbor was Scorcher's ongoing advice to Richie, who is new to the squad. Even though this is fiction, French's writing is so good and her characters feel so real that Scorcher's teachings seemed like something actual murder detectives would say.

I highly recommend Tana French's novels for anyone who likes well-written psychological thrillers.

Opening Passage
"Let's get one thing straight: I was the perfect man for this case. You'd be amazed how many of the lads would have run a mile, given the choice — and I had a choice, at least at the start. A couple of them said it to my face: Sooner you than me, man. It didn't bother me, not for a second. All I felt was sorry for them.

"Some of them aren't wild about the high-profile gigs, the high-stakes ones — too much media crap, they say, and too much fallout if you don't get a solve. I don't do that kind of negativity. If you put your energy into thinking about how much the fall would hurt, you're already halfway down. I focus on the positive, and there's plenty of positive there: you can pretend you're above this stuff, but everyone knows the big cases are the ones that bring the big promotions. Give me the headline-grabbers and you can keep your drug-dealer stabbings. If you can't take the heat, stay in uniform."
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,399 reviews11.7k followers
July 21, 2012
As seen on The Readventurer (double feature with Catie)

After more than 6 months filled with disappointments that came like blows from my favorite authors (Bitterblue, Holier Than Thou, Gone Girl, The Calling), I thought I couldn't count on any of my precious to deliver the goods. Apparently, I can still rely on Tana French to keep up her standards. Broken Harbor is not maybe my favorite novel of hers (I think Faithful Place is), but definitely not weaker than any of her previous works.

All her books are psychological thrillers, not fast-paced, not action-packed, but slow-moving and interrogation-heavy, and Broken Harbor sticks to the same format. At first, I intended to say it was possibly the "most psychological" out of her psychological thrillers, and the most crazy-driven. However, if I look back, all her novels without fail explore the depths of human mind, power of memories and their effect on investigative work, and involve mentally unstable characters.

Like detectives in all previous books in Dublin Murder Squad series, the chief investigator Mick (Scorcher) Kennedy is full of mental baggage of his own (who doesn't have it though?). I have only the vaguest memory of him from Faithful Place, so he is almost a completely new personality to get to know within the framework of this series. Behind Scorcher's unwavering, never-failing, upright cop facade, there is a lot of tension and a lot of self-control that come only to people who have battled through serious life challenges and learned to cope by keeping themselves tightly guarded and emotionally removed. Even though Scorcher has dealt with most of his childhood traumas, he is not free of them. His half-mad, volatile sister is a constant reminder of past dealings with mental illness and a disturber of his peace.

When Scorcher dives into investigation of the assault of the Spain family, French, as you would expect, pushes him into facing the darkest corners of his memory. Gradually learning of the economical and psychological demise of the Spains, Kennedy finds it hard to watch the parallels between the Spains' and his own family's stories. Will he be able to keep his cool and stay objective, not let his personal feelings influence the investigation? You'll just have to read and see.

The murderer in this case is fairly obvious and pretty early in the book, I would say. The pool of suspects is just too small. But the pleasure of unpacking this novel is not exactly in knowing who, but why and how. This is where the leisurely pace and lengthy interrogations work the best - you have an opportunity to get into all the suspects' minds, and what's inside is not pretty - psyches ravaged by strains of financial hardship, instability, uncertainty and, surprise! online bullying (of sorts). How current!

It is interesting that Broken Harbor has a very similar setting as Gone Girl - a well-to-do family loses financial security, and almost immediately loses its integrity, both material and psychological. But where Flynn's characters annoyed me with their, what I perceived, self-entitled whining, French's characters made me live through their difficulties as if they were my own.

I know, this review is kind of vague, I tiptoe around the subject a lot, trying not to spoil the reveals, but just know this - Broken Harbor is a story a picture-perfect family that crumbles under the weight of money problems and a desire to save public face at all cost. And this story is horrifying and sad.
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