Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Noir That Lingers, in A DARK AND BROKEN HEART, R. J. Ellory

British author R. J. Ellory wins long-term fans for his dark crime fiction through his characters -- mostly men, whose shadowed lives are twisted, bitter, yet somehow vulnerable. A DARK AND BROKEN HEART is already a classic of his work -- and it just arrived for American readers through Overlook Press.

What's with Detective Vincent Madigan, anyway? Doesn't he know crime won't pay, after being a cop for so long? Actually that seems to be the opposite of what he's learned with the NYPD and the corruption surrounding him. His own struggles have put him deep into debt to both a bookie and drug lord and to his lawyer (it all makes bitter sense). Not to mention alimony. And underneath all of Madigan's horror at the tangled mess of his life is a small, persistent hope: that somehow, some day, he can do something that will delight his teenage daughter and hear her speak his name with happiness and excitement.

That's the dreamy and tender kernel to the man that can make this worth reading, through violent scenes of desperate efforts gone wrong. Even Madigan knows his plan of using three career criminals to help him steal that drug lord's cash delivery is way too risky. He can picture what Sandia, the crime boss, would say after catching Madigan in the act:
You killed my people and you stole my money to pay your debt to me. You paid me back with my own money. And don't insult me by telling me you didn't. Tell me the truth and I'll kill you quickly. Lie to me and I will have someone torture you for a month.
As Madigan assessed the situation, "This was what he had. It didn't get much worse than this."

But it can indeed get worse, and does. Buckle up for more than 300 pages of bad decisions and bloody consequences. If you stick with it -- and readers who already like Dave Zeltserman's crime fiction and the deep gritty noir that Overlook is so skilled at finding will indeed be hooked -- don't count on a happy ending. Madigan may expect it (that's why readers hang with him), but he's been wrong so often that the finale is bittersweet, but not exactly unexpected -- unless, of course, you are the often high, always scheming, ever hoping Madigan himself.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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