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A Dark and Broken Heart


A Dark and Broken Heart

It doesn’t get much darker than this. Author R.J. Ellory is a master of crime fiction with a demonstrable ability to paint in several literary shades on a broad canvas. We in America can now number A DARK AND BROKEN HEART among his best works with its publication in the United States, following its initial appearance in 2012 in his native England. It is by turns startling, humorous, shocking, violent and, in the end, starkly redemptive, but only to a point.

We meet the two primary characters --- Vincent Madigan and Bernie Tomczak --- within the book’s first paragraph. Madigan is an NYPD detective who also moonlights for a local crime lord who goes by the name “Sandia” but is called “Watermelon Man” on the street. By the time we learn the reason for the nickname, we are almost afraid of the knowledge, given what we find out about the man. Madigan is an all-purpose utility for Sandia, acting as his collection agent, informant and all-around off-the-books enforcement. When Madigan isn’t working his public job or on the down-low for Sandia, he is busy pouring his life into the toilet --- literally --- using a variety of substances, including alcohol and painkillers, as a chaser. He is not without insight and always seems with the best of intentions to want to turn things around. Like Zeno’s turtle, however, he never quite gets there. The distance between the man Madigan is and the man he wants to be is excruciating in its description, and is just one of the book’s many strong points.

"Ellory is stunning, as always.... I recommend this newly published work of his, particularly if you like your noir dirty, grubby and pitch-black. Me? I loved every word."

Tomczak is a hopeless and hapless gambler who is but one of many in debt to Sandia. When we first meet both men, Madigan is beating Tomczak to a pulp as a means of persuading him to pay up. Tomczak is a total loser, but is not without some insight. He knows that Madigan won’t kill him; if that happens, then he will never be able to pay the debt. Madigan has his own problems in that area. He owes Sandia a considerable sum himself and has to come up with attorney fees to resolve an alimony matter. He hatches the crazy but meticulously planned idea of robbing one of Sandia’s bank houses while Sandia’s ill-gotten gain is being delivered to it and using part of his share of the proceeds to pay Sandia back with his own money. Things go right for Madigan before they go very, very wrong.

Guilty and innocent alike are caught in the crossfire, and Madigan discovers that it won’t be so easy to pay Sandia back with his own funds after all. Worse, Madigan is tasked by both the NYPD and Sandia to find out who carried out the heist. On the NYPD end, Madigan is partnered with a member of Internal Affairs, an implausible occurrence that Ellory somehow makes not only believable but seemingly inevitable. Things go from bad to worse to irrevocable for Madigan, until he sees a way out. He has one problem, though: he cannot escape himself.

Ellory is stunning, as always. A DARK AND BROKEN HEART suffers only briefly and shortly from a minor flaw --- a bit of dialogue about two-thirds of the way through that goes on for somewhat too long a period of time --- which is quickly redeemed by roaring through a series of twists and turns to a conclusion that is both tragic and redemptive. I said that before, but it bears repeating. Here’s another, which I have mentioned previously and elsewhere when discussing Ellory. While the man is as British as they come, he understands the essence of the United States in general and New York in particular as well as or better than anyone you are likely to read.

I recommend this newly published work of his, particularly if you like your noir dirty, grubby and pitch-black. Me? I loved every word.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 25, 2017

A Dark and Broken Heart
by R.J. Ellory

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press
  • ISBN-10: 1468316087
  • ISBN-13: 9781468316087