Mark Hardie’s debut crime novel Burned and Broken marks the promising start to a new contemporary crime series covering issues with a good dose of realism in its seaside setting of Southend.
The charred body of an enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out shell of his car on the Southend sea front.
Meanwhile, a vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.
As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery of their colleague’s death, dark, dangerous secrets begin to surface. Can they solve both cases, before it’s too late?
There’s an immediacy to Mark Hardie’s writing which quickly pulled me in and before I knew it, I was immersed. His world isn’t the Southend I know from day trips out of London with ice cream and amusements on the front: the treats in Burned and Broken are far less innocuous and the amusements are hidden away behind painted facades, while the seafront feels an altogether bleaker and more lonely place to be for the residents of the town. That’s because Burned and Broken focuses on the world in which the police live and work: it’s a world where alongside the routine work and investigation, regulations, checks and procedures, personal worries and concerns, there is neglect and abuse, broken relationships and homes, and damaged people, complaints and attacks, corruption and dysfunction, drugs and death, mental health issues and neglect, and violence easily triggered. There’s an intricate balance of sorts and when the cracks begin to show as the cases are investigated, I wondered if ultimately it would topple, and what would be the fallout.
Burned and Broken works (for me) because the characters are fleshed out and all too human – they have their work personas and their private lives and concerns, their strengths and flaws; Mike Hardie takes us into their heads and helps us understand the issues they’re grappling with in their lives. There are duty visits to the hospital and others made out of necessity and fear, for example. I particularly felt for Cat as she grapples with issues of trust and loyalty, and feelings of isolation and vulnerability. I also rooted for Donna, as she tries to find someone who cares about her dead friend and what happened to her when they were both falling through the cracks in society, and while dealing with the mental strain of losing such a close, if not her only, friend.
I also really liked the way in which Mark Hardie’s structured his novel and that helps make it such a gripping read. The timeline’s tight, the police are up against the pressure of an internal investigation and the need to hold press conferences, besides wanting answers themselves. You get a real sense of these people moving around in their world: there are glimpses of characters which might strike others as odd but not out of place enough to investigate, and which could further the investigation but Mike Hardie knows not to bring them in too soon, or to make it that easy for the team of Pearson and Russell. He’s also pretty adept at seeding doubt in the mind of this reader and I enjoyed working out what to consider as relevant and what to ignore as a false lead. And I really appreciated that while some lines of investigation are completed, other cases are closed without there being the hoped-for resolution. All of which gives Burned and Broken a more realistic, contemporary feel than a story where all the loose ends are tied up.
Burned and Broken is a cracking introduction to the new detective duo of Pearson and Russell. Going by their first outing, you’re going to hearing a lot more from them and creator Mark Hardie in future.
Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie is published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown and is out tomorrow as an ebook with the paperback to follow on 4 May. It is available from Amazon UK, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), iTunes and Kobo.
Mark Hardie was born in 1960 in Bow, East London. He began writing fulltime after completely losing his eyesight in 2002. He has completed a creative writing course and an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, both with distinction. You can Follow Mark on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for my review copy of Burned and Broken.
The blog tour is on all this week. You can easily find the participating blogs under the hashtag #BURNEDANDBROKEN but here are the ones taking part today: