Where to read: Also holiday reading
Read with: Bushmills
In brief: Gosh there are a lot of sequels going on here at the moment. To be fair, it’s less a sequel and more part of a set, each spring boarding off the others but readable independently. This is fine, but I wouldn’t use this as your introduction to French’s work.
French is a gifted author with a real talent for dialogue and narrative voice, a master of taking on the perspectives of not particularly loveable narrators (mostly men strangely enough) and of conveying spoken dialect. She also knows her way around genre conventions, leveraging the “detective with personal connection to murder delves into their own trauma as well as the crime” trope for all it is worth (see also the excellent Faithful Place).
It is perhaps unfair to the compare the two but Faithful Place was an examination of family dynamics, dysfunction and the aftermath of abuse told through a story about a family – Broken Harbour, by contrast, is an examination of mental health and depression, delusion and the impact of the GFC on the Irish property bubble told through the story of a murder-suicide. These are all important themes worth exploring, but it is a somewhat uneasy fit here. French strains to fit all her characters into her chosen trope, creating connections between them in ways which often feel distinctly contrived. It is a very convenient coincidence, for example, that the protagonist just happened to vacation at the titular Broken Harbour as a child, that he has some serious personal and family trauma around a possibly attempted murder-suicide at that location, that his sister has serious mental health issues, and that he then just happens to be involved in a murder-suicide investigation at that location, which just happens to be a decrepit GFC ghost estate. Unfortunately, it all comes across as a bit cute.
In terms of the central plot, it all revolves around the descent into madness caused by isolation and economic uncertainty. This is well done to a point but the escalation is unconvincing and, for all the emphasis on mental health as a theme, the eventual denouement feels unsatisfying. The main character bangs on and on about “psycho” not being a motive but ultimately that is about all we are left with for too many of the key plot points. Right to the end of the novel, I kept waiting for something more, for some revelation or twist that would tie things back together and was left wanting. This is probably realistic in cases such as these – murdering ones children is meant to be unfathomable – but an illusory ferret does not a satisfying trigger make.