Tana French

Broken Harbour

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Broken Harbour Summary

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Irish novelist Tana French’s crime novel Broken Harbour (2012) is the fourth installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series.

The novel opens as Detective Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy has just been assigned a new partner, Richie Curran. Their first assignment together is known as the Spain case, which involves Jennifer and Patrick Spain, a married couple and their two young children. Their family lived in Brianstown, formerly known as Broken Harbour, and was attacked in the middle of the night, with only Jennifer surviving the incident.

Kennedy and Curran head to Brianstown to begin their investigation; Kennedy sends a team of detectives to search the home for the murder weapon while he interviews the neighbors. Jennifer’s sister, Fiona, tells Kennedy that the Spains were a happy family. Jennifer had noticed small things around the house were going missing and suspected that someone was breaking in. In the attic, the detectives find financial documents revealing that the Spains’ fortune had declined significantly since Patrick had been laid off from his job six months prior. Kennedy’s initial hunch is that the entire thing was a murder-suicide organized by Patrick, but then he starts to consider the fact that there might have been a stalker observing the family’s every move. In a neighboring house, detectives find a hideout complete with binoculars and a sleeping bag, indicating that someone had indeed been spying on the Spain family.

Kennedy and Curran plan to watch the observation nest for anyone coming or going in hopes of identifying the family’s stalker. However, Kennedy’s sister Dina shows up unannounced at the police headquarters in Dublin Castle. She is clearly distraught, so Kennedy tells Curran to proceed without him while he takes Dina back to his apartment. He spends the night talking to her and attempting to figure out what is wrong.

The next day, Kennedy joins Richie on the stakeout; they spot someone whom Kennedy believes to be the stalker, and they bring him back to headquarters for interrogation. They learn the man’s name is Conor Brennan, and he is about the same age as Jennifer. He claims that he was drawn to the Spains because they seemed so happy, and he observed them in an attempt to soothe his own loneliness. Conor admits to breaking into the Spains’ home to steal things and confesses to the murders as well. However, Kennedy feels that something is off about the confession.

A computer tech tells Kennedy that he has found evidence on the Spains’ computer that Patrick was visiting a site called Wildwatcher in an attempt to figure out if he had a wild animal living in his house. He was sure that he could hear and smell the creature, although Jennifer never noticed anything of that nature.

Fiona arrives at the police headquarters to be questioned by Kennedy. The detectives had found a photo of her and the Spains with Conor when they were all much younger. Fiona admits that they were childhood friends. She also tells Kennedy that she suspected Conor of being in love with Jennifer. As Kennedy digs deeper, he discovers even more posts by Patrick on forums describing the strange creature living in their home. His postings seem panicked, which prompts Kennedy to question Jennifer again. He and Curran start to suspect that Jennifer is hiding something from them.

Kennedy goes back to Conor, determined to get to the bottom of his relationship with Jennifer. Conor explains that he was the best man at Jennifer and Patrick’s wedding, and godfather to their daughter, Emma. Over time, they had begun to grow apart, and when Conor’s work as a web designer started to dry up, he found himself filling his free time by watching the Spains. He denies having had an affair with Jennifer and insists that he is responsible for the murders.

When an evidence bag turns up with a woman’s fingernail in it, taken from Conor’s residence, Kennedy is convinced that it belongs to Jennifer and points to her being the killer. Kennedy’s partner, Curran, is the one who supposedly discovered the piece of evidence, but when Kennedy asks him about it he says that, although Jennifer is probably the killer, he felt she had been through so much already that they should just place the blame on the deceased Patrick and spare her. Kennedy is outraged at Curran’s response and threatens to have him demoted.

Kennedy then goes to interview Jennifer by himself in the hopes of getting the full truth this time. She tells Kennedy that her husband Patrick had slowly been losing his grip on reality in response to the stress of his job, which caused him to believe in this animal living in their house. She admits that she was also beginning to lose her mind, which drove her to kill her family, feeling that she was providing them with an escape.