Saturday, July 28, 2018

Broken Harbor: a very short review

The fourth volume of Tana French's brilliant Dublin Murder Squad series is Broken Harbor.

By this point, French has established a bit of a pattern, and Broken Harbor definitely fits it: a troubled detective, a troubling and complex investigation, a young partner with their own challenges, and a litany of fascinating other characters who wander in and out.

And through it all, French's amazing, almost effortless control of description, dialogue, and pace:

She had her hands wrapped around the mug again, tilting it in circles and watching the tea swirl. The smell of it was doing its job, making this alien place feel homey and safe. "Actually, it probably stopped working a long time before that. You can see it in the photos: we stop being jigsawed together like in that one there, instead we're just these elbows and knees stuck out at each other, all awkward ... We just didn't want to see it. Pat especially. The less it worked, the harder he tried. We'd be sitting on the pier or somewhere, and Pat'd be spread out till he was practically stretching, trying to keep close to all of us, make it feel like one big gang again."

With French, an ordinary paragraph from an interrogation room has it all: alliteration ("had her hands", "all awkward"), rhyme ("pier or somewhere"), sensory imagery (the touch of the mug, the taste and smell of the tea, the pictures), metaphor (the interrogation swirls like the tea in the cup), and the turn of phrase ("this alien place", "jigsawed ... elbows and knees").

Strikingly to me, with Broken Harbor French is more explicitly topical than in her previous books, dealing directly and bluntly with the consequences of the real estate collapse of 2008 and its consequences for Ireland. Broken Harbor was written in 2013, a time when I happened to be traveling in Ireland (though not in Dublin), and I saw for myself how dreadful it was.

I think French perhaps overtops it a bit with her plot: elements of it strain credibility to the limit. But, as is a recurring theme for her, Broken Harbor is deeply concerned with issues of mental health, and there can be no doubt that the Great Recession of 2008 dealt a several mental health blow to everyone who came into contact with it, even in the slightest of ways.

So I'll grant her a bit of dispensation on the farthest of the plot stretches, and content myself with another fine work of art.

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