With a plot that is both provocative and impossible to anticipate, French has written a deeply psychological tale that goes to the heart of the damage done to families who have invested in homes only to see their jobs and security crumble, their hopes for the future shattered along with the economy. Caught in the housing bust, Ireland is littered with country estates only partially built; many stand empty. In one such place—Brianstown, known to locals as Broken Harbor—three members of the Spain family are dead at the hands of another: Pat, the father; Emma and Jack sleeping for eternity in their upstairs bedrooms; and the fourth, Pat’s wife, Jenny, barely clinging to life, their bright kitchen and glass-walled family room spattered with blood.
Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy of the Dublin Murder Squad is assigned the case. His partner is new trainee Richie Curran, a young man eager to learn the ropes from a veteran detective. Kennedy even entertains the possibility that this new partnership might work out. The intuitive Curran can draw out reluctant witnesses to gain necessary information to solve an emotionally complex case. Pat and Jenny Spain, the couple in question, appear to have been the perfect couple, in love since their teen years, the ideal of all their friends. They proudly purchased this home in an exclusive rural development near Broken Harbor, their future assured until Pat lost his job and was unable to find other employment.
Kennedy and Curran arrest the most obvious suspect, a voyeur who has been watching the family’s movements from a vantage point in a nearby abandoned structure, his secret lair. Kennedy is certain Connor Brennan is the killer, but Curran isn’t on board, convincing Scorcher to test other theories before focusing exclusively on Connor. As French weaves a dark tale of a happy family run aground on the rocky shores of economic disaster, another picture takes shape, forcing Kennedy to marshal the self-control he has developed over the years to maintain his objectivity. Connor Brennan, Pat Spain’s best friend since childhood, has watched it all from afar, helpless to intervene and easily manipulated into a confession. Yet the drama reaches beyond the shocking murders into the very investigation itself, where Kennedy juggles pressing family obligations, exacerbated by memories triggered by Broken Harbor, nearly overwhelmed by the demands of the case.
Balancing one family’s growing state of crisis, the blight visited on the country by economic catastrophe and the unfolding conflict between Kennedy and Curran, French not only captures the delicate nature of an investigation with a profound psychological impact but also the nuanced behavior of a seasoned detective and the eager young trainee on his first murder case, a collision with reality begun that night in Broken Harbor: “I saw the place for what it was: lethal shaped and honed for destruction.” The pressure that accompanies resolution of the case, Kennedy’s family issues and his increasing conflict with his new partner comes together in a stunning tour de force, a searing family tragedy that resonates with loss and grief in a world intolerant of failure.