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A haunting tale of our broken dreams

Tana French is talking about killing again. "I really don't believe in this borderline that exists between genre fiction and literature," she says. "It shouldn't be an either-or situation. Just because you kill somebody off, that shouldn't mean it's perceived as a particular kind of book."

The book in question is Broken Harbour, French's fourth novel. Employing the framework of a police procedural crime novel, it is a thought-provoking social commentary which explores the damaged mind of a psychologically complex anti-hero as a metaphor for a broken country.

Set in the wake of the economic crash, Broken Harbour has a lot to live up to. French's debut, In the Woods (2007) won every available American crime-writing prize. She has been twice shortlisted for the LA Times crime/mystery novel of the year, for In the Woods and Faithful Place (2010). French's novels are perennial New York Times best-sellers, receiving the kind of glowing reviews more associated with the John Banvilles and Julian Barneses of this world.

In short, Tana French is one of modern Ireland's great novelists. Broken Harbour isn't just a wonderful mystery novel, it's also the era-defining post-Celtic Tiger novel the Irish literati have been crying out for.


"That wasn't deliberate," says Tana. "I wasn't going for a state-of-the-nation kind of book. It's just, when this is permeating the air around you, it seeps into everything."

Set in October, 2009, Broken Harbour opens in a 'ghost estate' in north Co Dublin, where Detective Mike 'Scorcher' Kennedy has been sent to investigate the apparent murder-suicide of two children and their parents, Pat and Jenny Spain.

The 'this' Tana refers to is not only the economic collapse, but the despair that followed and the psychological trauma inflicted on a whole generation that believed it was doing the right thing.

"What I find so horrific," she says, "is that these are the people who were doing their best."

The Spain family, smart and ambitious and anxious to put down roots, are emblematic of the lost generation.

"People were told, it's okay to buy on that half-built estate, because everyone's on board -- the banks are saying yes, the Government is saying yes, the markets are saying yes ... Everybody is telling you that this is the right thing to do... stick to the rules and the rules will play fair by you. And the rules didn't."

The novel's title refers to a fictional 'ghost estate' on the outskirts of Balbriggan. It's the latest in a series of enclosed communities that have featured in French's novels, a fascination she attributes to her peripatetic lifestyle as a child, living in the US, Italy and Malawi, among other places.


An actress before she turned to writing full-time, French welcomes the challenge of stepping into the shoes of a character far removed from her own experience. Kennedy, for example, is the third time her novels have featured a first-person male narrator.

A psychologically damaged protagonist, his cracks and flaws becoming more apparent as the story unfolds, its twists and turns laying siege to his previously cast-iron belief in playing it straight.

He believes, Tana says, in the 'Just World' fallacy, in which good people prosper because they are righteous and victims get what they deserve.

"It can seem quite simplistic and black-and-white," she says, "but I think it feeds a deep need for there to be some kind of order and justice in the world. Otherwise the world is chaos, it's uncontrollable."

Broken Harbour by Tana French is published by Hachette Ireland (€16.99)