One of the very first lessons we learn as a child is “cause and effect.” We cry, food appears. We touch a hot stove, we burn our hand. Everything, regardless of how small or insignificant, causes an action or a reaction. These actions propel our lives.
“The plague-ridden and religiously extreme Middle Ages birthed the Renaissance, the opening of the world by sail, and the Enlighment’s bright lights of science. Last century’s appalling World Wars, with the unprecedented casualties, spurred discoveries that have yielded extraordinary peacetime benefits: penicillin, rockets, and jet travel.” (pg. 1)
Last December, the Sandy Hook tragedy spawned months of trial and tribulation concerning gun control and mental illness.
Action, reaction, cause and effect.
But what if the event had no clear end game. The “effect” sat on a loop, repeating its devastation over and over. The world literally turned on its heals, and everything you knew: religion, allegiance, sanity were tested daily. No reward in sight, only repercussions felt continuously in every corner of the globe. Would you be able to see light at the end of the tunnel? Would you remain hopeful in a hopeless time?
What if your past came back to life at the same time? An adulterous husband, an overbearing mother. A child who’s life was cut short due to negligence. Stuck to you like glue. Haunting your every waking moment. Taunting you to the point of suicide. What would you do then?
A shattered world. A lackluster future, and a ghost.
Not the most promising of scenario from where I’m sitting, but one that was explored in Stephen M. Irwin’s novel “The Broken Ones.”
This novel is very dark, which means writing a review for it can go one of two ways. You can attempt to quell its dramatics with light-hearted comparisons (“This novel is like reading James Patterson on Opium with a side of WTF there’s a ghost.”) or you can cut the jugular open and watch your lame attempt to be equally as serious bleed across the page in agonizing defeat. (“The heart-wrenching annihilation I felt radiating from the main character left me breathless. I applaud Irwin’s ability to capture pain and loss in its most basic form.”) Obviously…I’m going with the lighter side. (Cause I’m fresh out of band-aides.)
I love incredibly messed up lead characters. The more beat down, angry, rude or overall douchy the better. Why? Because it allows room for growth. Until “The Broken Ones” I was convinced that Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher’s totally gobsmacked lead in “The Dresden Files“) was easily the most tragic character I had ever read. He defined the phrase: walking disaster. But he did so very entertainingly.
Detective Oscar Mariani now holds that title.
Let me set the stage for you: Divorced (but still in love with his ex.) Trying desperately to hold on to a dying job (even if he is the only person left in the department.) And beat to hell (literally) on every other page, are just three things that send Oscar blazing through Irwin’s story like a horse with it’s tail on fire. Hell bent on trying to establish civility where civility no longer exists makes Oscar an easy target, and because of this, Irwin is able to exploit and criticize his protagonist in spectacular form. For example:
Breaking his character down (by way of death, dismemberment and personal tragedy) allowed him (Irwin) to build him back up, making the end of the book refreshing in the aftermath of so much misfortune.
But enough about poor pathetic Oscar, let’s talk about the plot for a second, cause that is where I had a few problems.
#1. Though I appreciated the appearance of the ghost and all they had to offer to the story (lots of pointing and head nodding) their origins were never really discussed. Yes, I understand that the world fell into chaos and the name of the game became “expect the unexpected” but saying “everyone has a ghost” and explaining where exactly they matriculated from are two entirely different things. I need facts people! Ok, fake facts, but FACTS!
#2. While the cop drama aspects of the story were fast paced, totally compelling, and kinda icky in places, the paranormal aspects (not the ghost) fell a little short. If there is an evil half lion half owl flying around throwing cars like Coke cans, I expect there to be a few chapters talking about cranky bird-cats momma. This was (after-all) one of the biggest plot points of the story. It established a precedence for certain characters and their behavior. Wrapping it up with a nice white bow would have boded well for….well, for many reasons.
And #3. (Which is where I think I’ll stop so I don’t sound like I completely hate this novel.) I wasn’t kidding about the opium. While it was exciting, entertaining, and original, it was also waaaay out in left field. If you like traditional crime dramas (or traditional paranormal dramas for that matter) Irwin is probably NOT the writer for you. His stories (which include The Dead Path) are something of an enigma and require a particularly crazy breed of person to enjoy them.
Overall…it’s exactly what I expected when first agreeing to read this book. A complex take on a traditional fight for power. Not for everyone, but perfect for some.
Happy reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: If you have hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up.