Wednesday, May 18, 2016

'Broken Harbour' by Tana French

18 May 2016

All too often crime novels seem to sacrifice good writing for plot. Many years ago I saw Ian Rankin speaking at an Edinburgh Fringe event at which he said his motivation to start the Inspector Rebus novels had been to see whether he could bring his literary novelist skills to the world of crime fiction. Surely murder mysteries don't have to be badly written? So I was delighted recently to come across the novels of Tana French – a superior set of detective stories. Tana French has written a series of novels featuring members of the Dublin Murder Squad. Rather than focussing on a single detective, each novel  has a different investigating officer, drawn from the Murder Squad pool. Characters from previous novels appear in the background but the main focus shifts each time. I've just finished reading 'Broken Harbour' (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Hugh Lee). It's an intriguing police procedural which follows most of Robin's rules for detective fiction. The reader only sees events through the eyes of the main detective: so we have the same chance of solving the mystery as the police. And the puzzle is solved by detection and deduction, rather than some lucky turn of events that presents the answer on a plate. After the initial discovery of a gruesome and bizarre crime scene there are no further melodramatic twists or revelations, just a painstaking piecing together of the evidence. The resulting explanations of the murderer's method and motivations were plausible though I wasn't completely convinced by the way the detective chose to wrap up the investigation. But as well as working as a crime plot, 'Broken Harbour' is beautifully written with poetic descriptions, believable characters and a haunting melancholy. I look forward to reading more by Tana French.



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