Michael "Scorcher" Kennedy is our current police detective hero. It is French's wont to use a background character in one book as the major protagonist in the next book. Kennedy was a minor character in French's last outstanding book, "Faithful Place." Each main character in French's book not only has a crime to solve as a professional but also demons to exorcise from his or her personal life. Each character's strength may also be a weakness and his or her undoing. Knowing all this just ups the anticipation and tension for the reader from the start.
Broken Harbor begins with Kennedy saying, "Let's get one thing straight: I was the perfect man for the case." He is the perfect man, as it turns out. Scorcher has a high solution rate for crimes. He has been assigned a promising rookie to train, Richie Curran. He knows the area where the crime occurred. Broken -- a perversion of a word meaning dawn -- Harbor has been renamed "Brianstown," the bland, egotistical-sounding sobriquet for a shoddily-built, quickly-folded development. Back in the day, Broken Harbor was where many families, including Kennedy's, vacationed in summer. It provided some of the happiest memories and, we later learn, some of the saddest for Kennedy. Broken Harbor, indeed.
A frantic woman has called the police to investigate her sister's home in Broken Harbor (somehow the name Brianstown just doesn't have a menacing impact). The police find four bodies, including those of two young children. Did someone break in and attack them all or was it a case of murder/suicide?
Kennedy's personal life is complicated by his younger sister, Dina. Beset by the whirling mayhem of what appears to be a bipolar disorder, she is on a manic, uncontrollable ride when she appears at Scorcher's door. Beneath the jumble of thoughts and emotions, Dina is a reminder to Scorcher of how life can turn on a dime. He struggles to balance his responsibilities to right the world through his police work with his responsibility to family.
I'm not going to discuss the plot much more, because it is French's forte to open up many paths for the story to take, and it is your right to be kept on edge. What I will say is that French's writing can reach the poetic:
"This case was different. It was running backwards, dragging us with it on some ferocious ebb tide. Every step washed us deeper in black chaos, wrapped us tighter in tendrils of crazy and pulled us downwards."
"And the sea, high today, raising itself up at me green and muscled."
Kennedy is a crusader, a straight arrow at work, someone to depend on. it is French's job to poke at that edifice to see if there's something black and dangerous lurking inside. French masterfully manipulates the tension and shanghais her readers' emotions.