In high school, I read a LOT of mysteries, probably more than I read any other genre. Since then, I rarely read them but have craved them recently and heard great things about two more literary mysteries and enjoyed both of them. I think a lot of mysteries follow a pattern, especially when you read a lot by one author, so it was refreshing to read these two, which both have more developed characters and stronger writing in addition to a gripping story.
Into the Darkest Corner
In Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes added depth by giving her main character OCD and having her in recovery from a traumatic experience before the action even starts. The narrative alternates between her present and her past, and you aren’t sure if the thriller part will only be in the past part of the narrative or if it crosses over into the present. It surprised me by focusing quite a bit on how screwed up female friendships can be.
While Haynes does a better job at explaining why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship than most stories of domestic violence do, I still don’t understand why she went back to Lee the first time? She knew it was a bad idea and did it anyway. After that, it became impossible to leave and I understood that by then he had too much control by that point for her to get away even when she plans carefully and tries her best. Haynes tries to show how her friends liked Lee and didn’t understand why she broke up with him, but that still seems crazy to me since she knew there was something wrong with him. But, when reading about domestic violence I usually spend most of the time yelling at the woman to leave and didn’t do that as much here, so she did something right.
One random thing about both of these novels – in England and Ireland, it appears common that you can lock someone inside a house or room. This happened in Into the Darkest Corner with a room, and I assumed that the person probably added an external lock to the door. But then, it came up again in Broken Harbor. Someone was worried about whether to lock someone in the house and risk a fire starting and her not being able to get out, or not locking the door and her possibly leaving in a bad mental state and getting into trouble. I’m confused as to how you can lock someone in a house, or more accurately, why houses would be set up that way unless you were a bad guy trying to hold someone captive. It wasn’t noted as something strange, so I assume this is common practice over there?
Anyway, on to the review. Broken Harbor by Tana French was much more literary than I expected, delving more into the detective’s psyche and personal issues than you usually find in mysteries. Usually even with recurring detectives, they usually have a couple of quirks, maybe a romance or two, and that’s it. You don’t go much below the surface with them, and the focus is on the plot, the murder, not the detective’s life.
At the same time, French does a good job with the mystery, slowing giving you clues and suspects and evidence and making you question everything, except sometimes the thing you should be questioning. It made me think about how when things are presented as fact we have less of a tendency to mistrust them, we make assumptions based on “facts” and then that can lead us down the wrong road.
French also points out that sometimes we never learn why something happens. We might not truly know what caused someone to snap. This is one of the most frustrating things about life to me – I want to know everything. I hate it when I hear about something that makes no sense to me, whether it’s an act of horror or the popularity of Honey Boo Boo. (Who are these people watching that crap and WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???)
I will definitely check out French’s other novels and hope to read at least one of them this fall. I love this time of year and the good reading that fits with the cooling weather and Halloween and grey skies.