Rules and certainty guide and protect Kennedy. He schools his rookie partner, Richie Curran, on the drive to the crime scene, a half-built housing development abandoned when the economy turned sour. Rule No. 1, Kennedy lectures Curran as he hands him a tie: Look professional.
At first glance, Kennedy guesses that the grisly scene inside the Spain family home is a straightforward domestic violence incident. Patrick Spain, the father, had lost his job as a financial services recruiter and couldn't find work as the recession dragged on. He couldn't provide for his wife, Jenny, or his children Emma and Jack.
But oddities nag at the corner of Kennedy's mind: gaping holes in the walls of the home with a half dozen cameras trained on them, a report from Jenny's sister that someone had been sneaking into and out of the house taking and leaving small objects as a subtle sign that he'd been there.
In all of French's books, Ireland is the silent character. In her stunning first novel, In the Woods, the forested land behind a detective's childhood home hides clues to the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of two children - the detective's closest friends - decades earlier.
In Broken Harbor, it is the Irish Sea that links Kennedy's past to the Spain case. His family used to vacation there before developers turned the harbor coast into a cheaply constructed cookie-cutter estate.
As the case grows more complex, Kennedy's personal life intrudes. His younger sister, Dina, who suffers from some kind of mental illness, needs his help. She shows up at police headquarters overwhelmed by anxiety, telling Kennedy that her hair hurts and she can't find the off switch.
At first, I thought French's portrayal of Dina was cartoonish. She's the beautiful mad girl who needs her big brother to protect her. It's unclear what's wrong with Dina, and although she has seen many therapists over the years, Kennedy says simply that she's "crazy as a bag of cats" and "no good at life."
Although we never get a good answer, Kennedy's take on Dina's problems softens as he comes to realize that anyone, even the most regimented and dependable people, can lose control. For Kennedy, the line between right and wrong, sanity and madness begins to blur. Perhaps French purposely kept Dina's illness unclassifiable so that the reader, like Kennedy, would feel confused and frustrated that some answers will always be elusive.
I've read all of French's novels. They're deliciously quick reads, and while the plotlines at times strain a reader's ability to suspend disbelief, the writing is so good that I'm always willing to take the ride.
Broken Harbor isn't my favorite of her novels, and the ending left me feeling perplexed and a little disappointed.
But I couldn't stop thinking about it, which may have been French's goal.
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @joellefarrell.