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A DARK AND BROKEN HEART
by R J Ellory
Orion, May 2012
368 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1409124142


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Vincent Madigan is deeply in debt to Sandia, a brutal Harlem gang leader, and has to do his bidding, including beating up those who are slow in their repayments. A large cash arrival at one of Sandia's houses looks like a solution to Madigan's problem; he sets up and makes a snatch, killing four of Sandia's men. Realising that his three confederates in the raid are aware of his identity, he kills them too. Unfortunately it turns out that the money is tainted.

To make matters worse, Madigan learns that a stray bullet from the raid has badly wounded a teenage girl, Melissa. Madigan's thought processes are a mess, unsurprising given his heavy use of alcohol and a wide variety of drugs, but guilt leads him to find and protect Melissa's mother, and he starts to get his life organised. He needs to find a way to eliminate threats from various parties including Sandia and the police and bring himself and the two women out safe and clean, a challenge that will call for all his cunning.

Madigan is perhaps the epitome of the flawed hero. Personable and charming, he lives alone in the wake of three failed marriages, and seems to survive on Jack Daniels and handfuls of prescription medications. This is not a lifestyle with a great deal of mileage; but notwithstanding several references to his overworked heart, and his alarming appearance, Madigan seems to manage suspiciously well. The disorder of his thoughts is constantly referred to but he is able to conceal this from others: he is a consummate liar. While some may find such a portrait unconvincing, it does provide excitement. Madigan's ability to stay ahead of his pursuers, or even to stand up, is always on a knife edge, and disaster is never more than a moment away.

Madigan's aptitude to plan for and undertake the murder of others without qualm, before or after the event, does take him out of the normal run of protagonists in a crime novel. There seems little doubt he is a psychopath. Suspicion of this comes pretty early in the book and despite all the author can do by way of back story to explain his early promise, his good intentions and his guilt about Melissa getting shot, it is difficult to empathise with him. A more likely reaction is to stand aghast at the society portrayed, participants with few exceptions being greedy, brutal and venal without compunction, or easily persuaded into condoning evil for their own advantage. Some may enjoy this tale as a glimpse into the seedy underworld of New York. Others may find such a jaundiced picture difficult to swallow.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, March 2012

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