Tag Archives: Irish crime fiction

Purgatory by Ken Bruen

“How many times and in how many fucking ways could you adapt Pride and Prejudice?”

Purgatory, the 10th novel in Irish author Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series, finds former cop Taylor in post-boom Galway, haunted by his past and missing a few fingers. Jack has given up alcohol after reasoning that it “wasn’t easing” his “torture but fine-tuning it.” and while his attitude towards society in general has soured, his personal fortunes have improved with the discovery of a nestegg which he grabs before the church gets a whiff of it. Not that he mourns the death of his parents:

My mother wasn’t a simple bitch. She was more evolved, a cunning sociopath who hated the world under the guise of piety.

He’s got new digs, and almost as though he’s expecting the apocalypse, he’s lining the walls with as many books as he can. He turns down missing persons cases, and seems set to detach himself permanently from society when he finds himself dragged back into the mire by two things: the emergence of C33, a vigilante killer and the acquaintance of Reardon, a young dot-com billionaire who’s rapidly buying up Galway.

PurgatoryWhen Jack receives the first anonymous note from C33, he dismisses it, but it soon becomes clear, with the discovery of several dead bodies, that C33 means business. C33 delivers retribution to those who’ve escaped the consequences of their crimes, and for some inexplicable reason, the killer wants Jack to join in–even pointing him towards the next intended victim, and telling him it’s his “turn.” Since Jack is in disconnect mode, he sets his old “reluctant ally” Stewart, “former yuppie dope dealer,” on to the trail of C33. Besides, Jack has his own distractions with a woman 20 years younger–the enigmatic and very dangerous Kelly. It turns out that ignoring the killer, and focusing on Kelly is a bad mistake….

Bruen nails character in his own inimitable fashion with a few sharp sentences:

Peg Ramsay was not a nice lady. There was little in her background to indicate she’d become a mean, vicious, greedy cow. She was simply a bad bitch.

And:

Peg was a heft of a lady, in her rough fifties, with a face that no makeup was ever going to conceal, a face that had learned hard, sustained it. A shitload of jewelry that rattled like a conscience when she moved. A smoker’s pallor, that colour I know, inside and out. She rasped, “Taylor, well I’ll be fucked.”

Nice.

Purgatory is full of Bruen’s unmistakable voice so we not only learn about Jack Taylor’s reading habits (he’s on a female crime writer binge), but we also learn, in a quote that gives a sense of Bruen’s lean, abbreviated style, that Jack will never own a kindle:

Jack had been educating her in crime fiction and, so far, she had seven of the James Lee Burke titles. And, oh horror, she’d told Jack,

“I’m thinking of getting a kindle.”

See him explode.

Like this.

“Yah dumb bitch, you’ve read what? Six books, total? And what, you’re going to have storage for thousands of books. Get fucking real, lady. You think I’ll come round your house, ask, “hey, can I browse through your Kindle?”

This entry in the Bruen canon is dark and while there are touches of humour, they’re few. Instead Jack Taylor is close to dismissing the whole of the human race, and he’s fine with that, but the vigilante killer is dismissing people in a whole new way, and when the killer’s reach touches Jack’s life, he’s forced back into the game.

On the rating scale, I prefer Bruen’s standalone London Boulevard and A White Arrest–crime novels I cannot recommend highly enough. Bruen’s lean novels somehow manage to clean the mental palate, but a vigilante killer makes this reader wince–especially one who seems to have the abilities of the SAS. While Purgatory has all the prerequisite Bruen skill, it feels a little tired or even end-stage plot-wise (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book) and that may partly be just Jack’s exhaustion with the human race oozing through the pages. Anyway, Bruen/Jack Taylor fans won’t be able to say no, but it’s not his best.

review copy

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Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan

After hearing a couple of friends rave about the crime novels of Irish author Gene Kerrigan, I knew I’d have to read one sooner or later, and this brings me to Dark Times in the City, a gritty crime novel that explores the difficulties of remaining neutral in a corrupt damaged society where taking a moral stand can prove to be expensive.

Dark TimesDanny Callaghan is a 32-year-old ex-con who’s been out of prison for just 7 months. As an ex-con, he’s considered a success since he’s chosen the straight life. Callaghan lives in a nest of low-rent, drug-infested flats called ‘the hive’ and is holding his life together with a marginal job as a driver which allows him to tune out and remain independent. Ironically, he drives around visiting toffs and business execs whose nightly excursions tend to end in vomit-soaked drunken binges while Callaghan hangs out and acts responsible. One night, he’s minding his own business in a pub and having a quiet pint when two men walk in to make a hit.

The first assassin spotted his target and began to move forward. By now, most of those in the vicinity knew what was happening. The motorcycle helmet indoors, the armed minder watching the killer’s back and the quick stride towards the intended victim–in recent years, a routine as recognisable as a Riverdance twirl.

Danny doesn’t hesitate; he steps in between the gunmen and the intended victim and sends the two thugs packing. With this action, Danny finds himself dragged into a very ugly turf war between two rival gangs. One gang is run by the ageing Lar Mackendrick who’s had a tight fist on the Dublin crime scene for decades. The other gang is run by 27-year-old Frank Tucker, the head of a crime family that may or may not have old business with Danny Callaghan. Callaghan served 8 years in prison for manslaughter. He claimed he killed Big Brendan Tucker in self-defense, but with Big Brendan’s family, including his nephew Frank Tucker testifying against the self-defense argument, Callaghan served his time. Callaghan is concerned that Frank Tucker wants revenge and an unsettling meeting with the crime boss leans against that theory, and yet Callaghan still has the uneasy feeling that he’s being followed.

Tucker looked beyond Danny Callaghan, as though looking into the past. “Brendan and me, he was, what–about fifteen years older. He saw himself as a sort of uncle, I suppose. He was my cousin and I loved him, but what Brendan did best was throw shapes. He got a swanky car, swanky clothes, jewelry, bodyguards. You could quote any line from Scarface and he’d do the whole scene for you.” Tucker’s tone changed. “Too tall to be Pacino, though. Too fat, and too dumb. Brendan talked to the crime hacks from the Sunday papers, made himself out to be a big player. But everyone knew that Brendan would eventually fuck up. He did a bit of boxing early on, wasn’t much good at it but he knew how to push people around. Hardly a week went by he didn’t beat the shit out of someone. No way to build a business. Attracts the wrong kind of attention. And sooner or later—-“

To Frank Tucker, Callaghan is old business. While Callaghan worries that the past has yet to catch up with him, he doesn’t realize that he’s stumbled into the middle of a gang war where the vicious Lar Mackendrick is seen as “low-hanging fruit.”

If this were the Godfather, we’d be talking about gang members going to the mattresses, but here we see gang members picked off and brutally slaughtered–sometimes gleefully by the rival gang. This is an unpleasant bunch of characters who think nothing of beating some one to death and have fun doing it. Feeling he has little choice, Callaghan is dragged into the ongoing war and forced to cooperate, but still he struggles against an uneasy conscience. 

Emphasizing the predictability of character and the impossibility of escape in given circumstances,  Dark Times in the City is hard-boiled crime, and author Gene Kerrigan tries to balance the brutal darkness of this tale with moments of sentimentality involving Callaghan and various people he cares about. This balancing act may work for some readers who need to feel that there are some good, decent people in the world, but the moments of sentimentality work against the novel’s bleak, hard-core centre. That said, the pizza episode (and I’ll give no more away) nails how the lives of ordinary people are shockingly subsumed into the dark world that exists just out of sight in the margins of society. Ultimately, this is a page-turner which I would have preferred to see without its sentimental moments.  The two mega-crime bosses are well pitched towards one another–both intent on the destruction of the other, and, of course in the post-boom collapse, there’s only room for one crime family, and the most savage will win and the weak, I’m thinking the weasely character of Walter Bennett, will be crushed. Frank Tucker is seen as the new face of crime in a country that’s still defining itself:

The North was still leaking blood, and the South’s middleclass aspirations and distaste for the excesses of nationalism came together to create a fashion in housing estates with English labels–Sherwood Park, Tudor Heights, Balmoral Lawns. That was before the economic boom and the winding down of the Northern bloodletting encouraged the middle classes to adopt a bit of the old nationalist swagger.

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A White Arrest by Ken Bruen

“See, you gotta let ‘em see you’re the most brutal fuckin’ thing they’ve ever seen.”

I read and thoroughly enjoyed London Boulevard some time ago, so when I was offered a copy of A White Arrest, I grabbed it. After finishing London Boulevard, I picked over this author’s back list and discovered that A White Arrest,  the first part of a trilogy followed by Taming the Alien and The McDead, was OOP and pricey if you could find it. Now back in a $9.99 kindle version is the entire The White Arrest trilogy. People can bitch as much as they want about the evils of the kindle, but for many crime fans, electronic readers have brought back some fantastic titles. Case in point.

the white trilogyFirst things first: A White Arrest, and a term I’ll admit I’d never heard before, is  an arrest that is “the pinnacle of a policeman’s career,” and now that I’ve given that description, I’ll say that it seems extremely unlikely that Irish Detective Sgt. Brant, the antihero of this story is ever going to get white anything. That’s because Brant isn’t exactly a by-the-book copper. He’s crude, coarse, a sexist who leaves a trail of complaints in his wake. Brant’s boss is Chief Inspector Roberts, and they are known in the department as R and B:

The relationship twixt R and B always seemed a beat away from beating. You felt like they’d like nothing better than to get down and kick the living shit out of each other. Which had happened. The tension between them was the chemistry that glued. Co-dependency was another word for it.

Both men have hellish personal lives. Roberts has a fancy house and an even fancier wife, and together they have a teenage daughter who just got kicked out of private school. While Fiona Roberts pulls the disapproving Ice Queen routine on her hubbie on a nightly basis, her afternoons are spent on the sly buying sex from studley, oiled young men. Whereas Roberts’ expensive and complicated home life is poison, Brant is now single and his flat is a “one room basic unit. He kept it tidy in case he scored.”

To complicate matters, Brant fancies Fiona Roberts, and there is some debate whether this misplaced lust is genuine or whether it springs from a desire to cuckold Roberts. Every interaction between Brant and Roberts is fraught with tension–Brant, for example, insists on calling Roberts Guv–even though he’s told repeatedly to knock it off. On another level (and one I’ll admit I delighted in) there’s an ongoing literary duel between the two coppers about the best crime writer. Brant is a fan of Ed McBain, and he owns a prize collection of his favorite author’s books in his grotty council flat in Kennington with “one whole wall devoted entirely to books.” He owns the entire Ed McBain series, “two shelves were given to the Matthew Hope series” and the bottom shelf is the home of the Evan Hunter books–or as Brant likes to think “the three faces of the author.” When Brant isn’t quoting McBain, he’s trying to get Roberts to read him, and the fact that Roberts rejects McBain only underscores Brant’s view of his boss’s serious character flaws. Here’s Brant trying, unsuccessfully once again, to get his boss to read McBain.

I’ve another McBain for you.

He tossed a dog-eared book on to the desk. It looked like it had been chewed, laundered and beaten. Roberts didn’t touch it, said: “You found this in the toilet, that’s it?”

“It’s his best yet. No one does the Police Procedural like Ed.”

Roberts leaned over to see the title. A food stain had obliterated that. At least he hoped it was food. he said: “You should support the home side, read Bill James, get the humorous side of policing.”

“For humour sir, I have you–my humour cup overflowed!”

In spite of the fact that tension flows between Brant and Roberts, they work well together, and oddly enough Roberts protects Brant at crucial moments. When the novel begins Brant is in no small amount of trouble.

All his little perks, minor scams, interrogation techniques, his attitude, guaranteed he’d be shafted before the year was out. A grand sweep of the Met was coming and they were top of the list. Unless … Unless they pulled off the big one, the legendary White Arrest that every copper dreamed about. The veritable Oscar, the Nobel prize of criminology. Like nailing the Yorkshire Ripper or finding the shit-head Lucan. It would clear the books, put you on page one, get you on them chat shows. Have Littlejohn kiss yer arse, ah!

So those are our coppers, well a couple of them. There’s also WPC Falls “the wet dream of the nick. Leastways she hoped she was. A little over 5′ 6″ she was the loaded side of plump, but it suited her.” And there’s young, weak Brant wannabe PC Tone who imitates his idol and feels “dizzy with the macho-ness” of unaccustomed phrases and actions.

Now to the crimes: there are no less than two serial murders taking place. A gang of young racist thugs begin by murdering drug dealers and then move on to other targets, and then there’s a total psycho who’s bumping off members of the England cricket team in spectacularly exotic fashion. R & B are on the trail of the killers with Brant determined to get his White Arrest and wipe his dirty slate clean.

In spite of Brant’s abrasive, coarse personality, there’s the core of twisted idealism alive and well festering in his perverse heart. In between ripping off pizza delivery boys, and harassing Indian newspaper vendors, Brant, a crime film and fiction aficionado freely quotes from some of his favourites and would like to style himself on the Ed McBain novels:

For some perverse reason he finds that Ed McBain in the police procedural comes closest to the way it should have been. Long after he’d dismissed Dixon as a wanker. his heart still bore the imprint of Dock Green. In Brant’s words, television had gone the way of Peckham. Right down the shitter.

It’s through Brant that one of the novel’s sub themes is most evident, and that’s the way we tend to need heroes in our lives; there’s PC Tone whose desire to emulate Detective Sgt. Brant leads him on a deadly path, there’s Brant who really wants to be a cop in Ed McBain’s 87th precinct, there’s Roberts who relates to the heroes of film noir, and vicious thug Kevin’s emulation of Charles Bronson in Death Wish and Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. On that note, here’s a free tip: want to know what someone really thinks?… ask ‘em who their heroes are before you take them home to meet mother.

 I read a lot of crime, and sometimes when you read a lot of one particular genre, books blend into each other and the characters and story threads blur: missing teenage girls who walked away from a party and never came back, alcoholic policemen who turn up disheveled and red-eyed for roll-call, the detective who must beat the clock before a sicko-serial killer offs his next squirming teenage captive…. well you get my drift. A White Arrest crackles with originality and delivers sordid details of those on both sides of the fence–Brant is a flawed morally reprehensible human being whose, let’s say, unconventional approaches to crime solution leave a lot to be desired, but he is also at the same time a very unique and very real creation. Brant does awful things to people he deems weaker than himself, but even so there is some sort of moral line he won’t cross. To those who work with Brant, that moral line may seem non-existent, but it’s there nonetheless. Brant with his gleefully nasty larger-than-life-in-your-face-and fuck-you-if-you-don’t-like-it personality is someone I want to read about. Ken Bruen added just enough tiny details to Brant’s character to salvage him from a total wipe-out to someone who has a few deeply hidden human traits that are rarely shown to those within the department. Highly recommended for those who like their crime dirty, dark  and hard-boiled with just the right touch of black humour.

For those interested, to date there are seven novels in the Brant series.

Review copy

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Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty

Time to shamelessly promote another author, and this time it’s Adrian McKinty–an Irishman who lives in Australia, and if, like me, you are at all interested in Irish crime fiction, then Adrian McKinty is a name to note. Simple as that. McKinty’s Dead Trilogy  (also known as the Michael Forsythe Trilogy) is as good as crime fiction gets: dark, hard-boiled, and unrelentingly mean, the trilogy (Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard, The Bloomsday Dead) a fantastic exploration of Irish criminal culture follows the explosive criminal career of Michael Forsythe who leaves Ireland and goes to America where he works as an enforcer for Darkey White. If you haven’t read this trilogy, all I can say is ‘what are you waiting for?’ And this brings me to McKinty’s latest book Falling Glassanother hard-boiled crime novel which connects to the Dead Trilogy.

Falling Glass begins with Killian finalising another job as a collector in Boston. It’s St Patrick’s Day, and Killian finds himself in the middle of the celebrations which are rife with faulty Irish folklore and annoying people who’ve never been to Ireland correcting Killian about various aspects of Irish life and culture. This is a great intro to the story because fabrications (lies and BS) play a large role in the story that plays out. Killian is a great story spinner too, and we see this talent when he meets and tries to collect from Marcetti, the man with the overdue debt of “five large.” Killian likes to know understand his quarry–in this case, the respectable suburban husband and father whose secret life has led to a “shark’s enforcer” arriving at his perfect home with its triple garage looking to collect 500,000 the hard way if that’s what it takes.

He could imagine the traj; street or half-street kid, pretty smart, scholarships, college, banking, marries into money, moves to the Boston burbs and gradually migrates north. Perfect until, like some atavistic demon, the grifter comes out: a visit to the local casino, maybe he wins, in any case the hooks are in, he starts playing, starts losing, starts borrowing. In a year, he’s under the ocean, deep down, Robert fucking Ballard territory, the Mariana fucking trench.

After impressing Michael Forsythe with the results of the Boston job, Killian is hired to track down Rachel, the junkie ex-wife of multi-millionaire entrepreneur Richard Coulter. Rachel has gone on the lam with her two small children, and Coulter, who’s remarried to wife number 3 and about to become a father yet again, wants his children back. The word is that Coulter wants to enjoy “one big fucking happy family” according to Killian’s ‘agent’, Sean. Coulter claims that he’s worried about what’ll happen to his children with Rachel back on H, and given Rachel’s history, this seems a very reasonable worry. To sweeten the pot, Coulter offers Killian 500,000 pounds if he’s succeeds in finding his ex- who “is off the deep end.”

With a half-million score at the end of the rainbow, how can Killian refuse? In his own words he’s “semi semi” which translates to mean that he’s trying to go legit. The only problem is that Killian tried to go legit at the wrong time. After quitting “The Life,” and deciding to attend the University of Ulster, he jumped into the property boom. Now he’s “three hundred thousand quid negative equity” on an apartment building that no one wants to buy at the price he needs. So Killian agrees to take the job which appears to be the answer to all his problems–although he has reservations and sniffs that the job “reeks.”  Killian discovers, the hard way, that the whole scenario about Rachel left out some important details….

Killian finds himself in Hong Kong where he meets Coulter and his new-wife Helena and gets the details for the job.  Coulter claims that he has “proof” that Rachel is using again, and that would certainly explain why she’s dropped out of sight.

We found out she’d disappeared. Stopped using cash machines, only used payphones. Her solicitor doesn’t even know where she is. We thought she’d joined a fucking cult or something.

At first things go smoothly, but then Killian begins to peel away the layers of deceit and discovers the real reasons for Rachel’s flight, and it’s at this point that the situation turns ugly.

One of the reasons I’m a fan of Adrian McKinty’s crime novels is that he creates interesting complex characters. Killian may seem like an affable soul, a good story-teller, a decent man, but as the hunt for Rachel turns into something else, he adapts to circumstances, and we see exactly why he’s easy to underestimate. There’s a meanness there, just below the surface, that Killian is perfectly capable of unleashing when circumstances warrant violence, and since I’m on the subject of violence there is one scene here that is definitely not for the squeamish. But, make no mistake, Killian is the good guy here in a world of corruption and senseless violence. Killian has moral standards he adheres to, and there are some things he will not do for money.

The book also explores Pavee life. Killian is a Pavee, and while that doesn’t mean much to me beyond the vaguest, shapeless idea of caravan life, it means a great deal, apparently, to other Irishmen. Killian, who is from a tribe of Irish Travellers and speaks Shelta, reconnects with his people during the course of the novel, so the story opened up a window into an unknown culture. I knew, of course, about the enmity between the catholics and the protestants, but just how the Pavees fit into this was new to me. This was an interesting twist, and Killian’s background goes a long way to explaining why he’s viewed as a disposable outsider who is not trusted by the people who employ him.

Falling Glass is another intense crime read from McKinty. It’s fast paced and gripping, but loses momentum towards the end, and there was one element to the plot (can’t give it away) that felt a bit tired to this reader. The Dead Trilogy is still IMO, McKinty’s best work, but I have his latest Cold, Cold Ground (Book One: The Troubles Trilogy) just published here in N. America to look forward to.

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Broken Harbor by Tana French

“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.”

Those two opening lines from Irish author, Tana French’s fourth novel, Broken Harbor tell us a lot about Dublin Murder squad detective, 42-year-old Mick Kennedy: 1) he cares deeply about his job 2) he’s an engaging narrator, and 3) this is a man who places a great deal of importance on the rules. If you stop and think about it, murder is an instance in which rules are broken; I’m not just talking about laws because that’s obvious. But murder also breaks the rules of what we expect: parents kill their children, children kill their parents; spouses vow to love and cherish ’till death do us part,’ until murder suddenly and inexplicably becomes an alternative to divorce. Even neighbours sometimes engage in feuds that end in death. We’re all supposed to grow to a ripe old age, yet murder violates these expectations and breaks the so-called rules of these trusted relationships. As regular readers of this blog know, I read a lot of crime novels, but Broken Harbor is ahead of the pack for lots of reasons but more of that later.

The novel begins with Detective Kennedy and his rookie partner, Ritchie Curran on a new case. Kennedy, whose nickname is Scorcher, appeared in Tana French’s earlier novel Faithful Place and he’s back here as the narrator. Scorcher had the “highest solve rate” in the department but his success took a beating after a case went wrong, and now down to “second” he’s been given a chance to redeem himself by his boss, who hands him the case.

The second it hit the floor, I knew from the sound that it was a big one. All of us did. Your basic murder comes straight to the squad room and goes to whoever’s next on the rota, or, if he’s out, whoever happens to be around; only the big ones, the sensitive ones that need the right pair of hands, go through the Super so he can pick his man. So when Superintendant O’Kelly stuck his head around the door of the squad room, pointed at me, snapped, “Kennedy, my office,” and vanished, we knew.

The case is a triple homicide: dad, Pat Spain and his two children, Emma and Jack are dead, and Pat’s wife, blonde beautiful, Jenny Spain lies in hospital in a coma hovering between life and death. Right from the outset, the big money is on Pat as the suspect:

When it plays out like this, it’s usually the father: a woman just takes out the kids and herself, a man goes for the whole family.

The Spains lived in a large new home in Broken Harbor, a coastal town–now renamed Brianstown in a housing estate called Ocean View:

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 pointing you towards LITTLE GEMS CHILDCARE and DIAMONDCUT LEISURE CENTRE. Second glance, the grass needed weeding and there were gaps in the footpaths. Third glance something was wrong.

That “something wrong” is a housing estate that started to be built during the economic boom but fell flat shortly after the economy tanked. Only a few houses on the estate are occupied. Other cheaply made houses were in various stages of being completed before the builders abandoned the project. There are “random collections of walls and scaffolding,” many houses lack windows or interior finishing,  some rooms are “littered” with remnants of building materials. It’s as if an alarm sounded and everyone walked off the job leaving the desolate housing estate semi-completed. A few families live on the estate, but squatters have moved in. The Spains lived in one of the occupied houses, and the feeling that there’s something radically wrong with Broken Harbor increases when the detectives enter the Spains’ home.

Scorcher is an engaging narrator who through training Curran also trains us about police procedure. Rule number one, according to Scorcher, (back to those rules again), “no emotions on scene.” Curran argues that his impoverished background and working in Motor vehicles has prepared him for “pretty bad stuff.”

All of them think that. I’m sure I thought it too, once upon a time. “No, old son. You didn’t. That tells me how innocent you are. It’s no fun seeing a kid with his kid split open because some moron took a bend too fast, but it’s nothing compared to seeing a kid with his head split open because some prick deliberately smacked him off a wall till he stopped breathing. So far, you’ve only seen what bad luck can do to people. You’re about to take your first good look at what people can do to each other. Believe me: not the same thing.”

And here’s Rule Number Two:

When someone’s behaviour is odd, that’s a little present just for you, and you don’t let go of it till you’ve got it unwrapped.

I’ve exchanged comments with Max at Pechorin’s journal regarding the creation of literary detectives. It’s ok to have a barely functioning low-rent PI who’s boozed up to his eyeballs, but once you have an alcoholic murder detective who’s on the skids, as a reader, I get fed up with this type of character appearing repeatedly. Scorcher is different. He’s a bloodhound on the scent of the killer, and once he has his teeth in a case, he doesn’t let go, and if that means working 20 hour days, then that’s what it takes. Part of the novel’s power can be found in the way the story is told. Scorcher and Curran arrive at the fresh and relatively undisturbed crime scene and we effectively arrive with them. Author Tana French creates a visceral shock and an intensity as we accompany the detectives through every room in the house.

When you get a chance to see a scene that way, you take it. What waits for you there is the crime itself, every screaming second of it, trapped and held for you in amber. It doesn’t matter if someone’s cleaned up, hidden evidence, tried to fake a suicide: the amber holds all that too. Once the processing starts, that’s gone for good; all that’s left is your own people swarming over the scene, busily dismantling it print by print and fiber by fiber. This chance felt like a gift, on this case where I needed it the most; like a good omen. I set my phone on silent. Plenty of people were going to want to get hold of me over the next while. All of them could wait til I had walked over my scene.

As you can tell from that passage, Scorcher is possessive about his crime. It’s his to solve–no one is going to take it away or screw it up for him, and this brings me to another story thread involving Scorcher’s past. Broken Harbor has a lot of bad memories for Scorcher, and these memories are impossible to bury as the investigation continues. By creating this thread, French draws some nice parallels between Scorcher’s past and the crime, and the case inevitably causes Scorcher to question his carefully constructed belief system. The story is also loaded with some sharply drawn secondary characters:  Office slouch, Quigley who’s viciously jealous of Scorcher’s success and can’t wait to stab him in the back if he gets the chance, Cooper the pathologist who goads Scorcher every chance he gets, Jenny Spain’s sister, Fiona who makes Scorcher uneasy for some reason he can’t fathom, and then there are the Spains’ low-life neighbours, the resentful Gogans who thought the Spains were snobs. Even Broken Harbour seems to become a character–a relic of smashed dreams of suburban success and rising affluence, and a place where violent events seem to be the natural results of a world in which everything went wrong.

While this is a who-done-it police procedural, there is also, rather interestingly, equal weight given to the ‘whys’ of the crime, and perhaps this is yet another reason that makes Broken Harbor stand out from the pack. Bottom line, for this reader, it’s Scorcher’s intelligence and single-minded drive that makes the book a riveting read, and here with one final quote is Scorcher’s “dirty secret” about murder:

I know this isn’t what we get taught on the detective course, but out here in the real world, my man, you would be amazed at how seldom murder has to break into people live’s. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it gets there because they open the door and invite it in.

Review copy from the publisher

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