The 39-year-old is eating French toast for a late brunch at a downtown Washington restaurant, telling this story in her friendly, fast-paced patter (she has only a fleck of an accent). She’ll retell it that night to a standing-room-only crowd at Politics and Prose, regaling fans with the tale of the beginnings of her pleasingly complicated new thriller, “Broken Harbor.”
It’s a book with a lot more on its mind than pest control. There are real horrors — murder, financial ruin — and imagined, with things in the walls that might or might not be there.
It’s getting the rave reviews that have become stock-in-trade for the former stage actress since she burst onto the scene four years ago with her Edgar-winning “In the Woods.”
The New York Times calls it a “devious, deeply felt psychological chiller,” the Scottish Express dubbed it “nothing short of a masterpiece,” and the Irish Independent christened her “the First Lady of Irish Crime.”
She’s outgoing and funny. Breaks up her conversation with laughter to accentuate a point. Misses the camaraderie of theater work. She’s left-handed, starts her drafts in longhand and then moves them over to a computer.
She thinks about inhabiting her characters as she did her stage roles, searching for that right voice. Her husband, Anthony Breatnach, also an actor, is her first reader and editor. Although she’s not a fast writer — she starts with a premise and narrator and no outline — she got off to a blazing start on her second career. “Woods” has sold nearly a million copies in the United States and racked up sales worldwide.
The connective tissue of her books is the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, with a different character playing a prominent role in successive books.
She gives ace (if cocky) Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy the first-person narrative here, letting him relate his investigation into a killing in a oceanside housing estate where four out of five homes stand empty or unfinished. Streetlights weren’t installed before the developer went bust, the community center never happened, the few dozen residents keep to themselves, and the Spain family — Patrick and Jenny and two adorable kids — seem to have gone mad.
The kids are found dead, suffocated in their rooms, and Patrick is downstairs, stabbed to death. Jenny, also stabbed, is next to her husband, barely alive. There is no murder weapon. Walls are full of neatly made holes. Video monitors are everywhere.
Kennedy, a suicide-haunted man, has dark connections to the place, back before the Irish housing boom and bust, when it was a remote summer retreat known as Broken Harbor.
This sprawling nightmare — it stems primarily from that half-seen mouse .