"Broken Harbor," the fourth novel in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, takes its name from the former seaside resort where Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy (the by-the-book detective who antagonizes Frank Mackey in 2010's "Faithful Place") vacationed as a teen with his family. It's where he remembers being happiest; it's also the point in time and space where he now believes things went south for everyone.
Broken Harbor has since been flagged for development and rechristened Brianstown, a bland, generic name that mirrors the cookie-cutter houses that were started and then abandoned when the economy collapsed. Chaos outside, chaos in: Scorcher is called to Brianstown to investigate a triple homicide in one of the houses. Pat Spain and his two children are dead; his wife, Jenny, survived the attack, but barely.
It's a typical murder investigation on the surface, with Kennedy assigned to rookie detective Richie Curran and a botched case on his record driving him to pursue professional redemption - but of course in French's novels nothing is ever straightforward procedure. Part of the reason is the amount of care French devotes to her characters. Her unparalleled ability to create fully realized, wonderfully flawed characters makes us just as invested, if not more so, in their personal lives.
For Kennedy, the personal and professional are intricately linked, and watching him attempt to keep control over both is captivating and at times wrenching.
The case itself is rigged with French's special blend of twists, misdirects and macabre details, becoming more bizarre and sinister as it goes.
So much of the pleasure inherent in reading these novels is in trying to figure out where things are going and being constantly surprised, not to mention thoroughly spooked. I predict "Broken Harbor" will be on more than one Best of 2012 lists - it's definitely at the top of mine.