Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:
Over the course of Tana French’s four Dublin Murder Squad novels, a lot has happened. For one, French has become a very good writer. Her last two in the series, Faithful Place and Broken Harbor, are great books; moody, enthralling, truly mysterious, and well-written, with only rare moments of laziness when French leans on too-familiar metaphors. A lot has happened to Ireland too since French wrote her first novel, In the Woods. Published in 2007 in the U.S., that novel mixed a mysterious murder and a decades-old disappearance with economics and politics in the guise of a planned motorway project. Dublin was booming then, the Celtic Tiger at full roar. By Faithful Place, French’s third novel, Dubliners were starting to worry, a bit, about the increasingly unstable real estate market.
In the Ireland of Broken Harbor, the Tiger is dead, its corpse carpeted by maggots. And the way that the Irish economy, as seen primarily in its boom-bust real estate market, figures in French’s books has also evolved. In Broken Harbor, the failed economy isn’t simply a shady backdrop—it’s motivation for murder. When three of a family of four are killed in their home in a depressingly under-populated seaside housing estate, Detective Mick Kennedy (from Faithful Place) is assigned to solve the case that left only the mother alive, maimed and unable (or is it unwilling?) to speak when the police first visit her in hospital. French saddles Kennedy with a lot of obstacles to create tension: a former workplace screw-up that puts pressure on him to solve this increasingly dark and complicated case; a rookie partner who may not be up to the task; an unstable sister who needs constant care; and a haunted past that connects Kennedy (and his sister) to Broken Harbor—a site now whitewashed into the generic, real estate-friendly “Brianstown” development. Like Jo Nesbo, who grounds his latest tale in Oslo’s economic issues, which have led to a heroin epidemic, French makes expert use of the very real and serious economic problems that her adopted country has faced in recent years.
No one in Ireland is talking about recovery right now, not yet. While this is bad news for the Irish on a daily basis, every year or two, when Tana French turns her mind to Ireland’s troubles, it’s great news for everyone else.