Faithful Place and Broken Harbor

It sounds like an old chewing gum commercial: Do you want to double your reading pleasure? Then check out two more beautifully written psychological thrillers by Tana French. Technically, I suppose, they are murder mysteries in the police-procedural sub-genre, but they read much more like mainstream novels than whodunits. Like French’s earlier two novels — In the Woods, which I reviewed on May 6, 2008; and The Likeness, which I reviewed on January 5, 2009 — these two take place in modern Ireland, featuring the Dublin Murder Squad, but each stands alone and doesn’t have to be thought of as part of a series. Both of them are character studies of individuals, families, and social classes.

Faithful Place moves from a slum by that name — a neighborhood of Dublin that “stank of stale nicotine and stale Guinness” — to the modern cosmopolitan city of Dublin. Class conflict and family conflict are never far behind. It’s not a book that will cheer you up, but it will capture you and immerse you in a world that you can’t help wanting to know better, even as you want to get away from it.

Broken Harbor takes place outside of Dublin in a failed seaside community that never actually got off the ground: “broken” harbor indeed. The recession hit Ireland much worse than it hit us, and there you have one of the themes of this leisurely but absorbing story. It’s also a story of intra- and inter-personal conflict, as novels almost always are. As in French’s previous books, characters are complex and three-dimensional, with few “good guys” and “bad guys.” If you insist on liking your protagonists unreservedly, don’t read this novel — or any Tana French novel, for that matter — but if you can tolerate ambiguity and reality, you should read all four.

Categories: Books