Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review of "Broken Promise" by Linwood Barclay

When his newspaper shuts down widowed journalist David Harwood and his son Ethan move in with David's parents in Promise Falls, New York. One morning, as a favor to his mother, David brings some prepared food to his cousin Marla - a troubled young woman whose baby died at birth nearly a year ago. Since then Marla has been consumed by grief and once even tried to snatch a baby from the hospital. Luckily for Marla this was hushed up by her mother, the hospital's top administrator.

When David gets to Marla's house he's shocked to find that she's feeding a baby, who she claims was dropped off by 'an angel.' Marla says the baby, named Matthew, now belongs to her, and insists that David take her shopping for a crib and baby accoutrements. As it happens 'the angel' left a stroller with the baby and David finds an address in the folds of the pram. Ostensibly taking Marla shopping, David drives to the address and - lo and behold - finds a bloody dead woman in the house.

Of course the police suspect that Marla committed the murder, and David, concerned for his cousin, agrees to try to help her. During his inquiries David speaks to the dead woman's husband and doctor, and tries to find the baby's nanny - who seems to be missing.

Meanwhile Promise Falls is having a rash of other crimes. Twenty-plus dead squirrels were hung from a fence, three mannequins were found riding the ferris wheel of a defunct amusement park, and several girls were assaulted on the campus of a local college.

Detective Barry Duckworth, a 20-year veteran of the Promise Falls Police Department, is lead investigator on all these cases. Duckworth is a capable intuitive cop, good at connecting the dots - but clues seem to be scarce. Duckworth assigns his temporary assistant, uniformed cop Angus Carlson, to look into the squirrels, ferris wheel, and assaults - but Carlson is less than enthusiastic about this.

This is the first book of a series and various characters seem likely to show up in future stories. These include David's mom Arlene - who's starting to show signs of dementia; David's dad Don - who has a dark secret; disgraced former mayor Randall Finley - a weasel who's going to make another run for the job; Samantha (Sam) Worthington - the pretty mother of a school bully; and Angus Carlson, who hopes to make detective.

Linwood is a deft hand at characterization and every character has unique issues. Overweight Detective Duckworth is doing his best to avoid those tempting chocolate-frosted donuts. Sleazy ex-mayor (and would-be blackmailer) Finlay is trying to find dirt on people. Sam Worthington - in the midst of a dirty custody fight - routinely answers the door holding a gun. Arlene is trying to get her son David remarried; Carlson wants to impress his wife and has mother issues; and so on.

I enjoyed this well-written book, which has some shocking moments and unexpected twists. My major objection to the story are the loose ends at the book's end. I think a mystery novel - of all genres - should wrap up cleanly. Still, I'll probably read the next book in the series to (hopefully) find out what's what.

I'd recommend this book to mystery fans.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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