Burned and Broken - Mark Hardie

There is a feeling that the crime investigation and the introduction of a new police detective team in Burned and Broken feels a little too low-key to make much of an impact on a very crowded genre. It would be a shame if that were the case because - without wishing to make any pun on the title or the nature of one of the deaths here - Mark Hardie's debut is something of a slow burner. By the time you get to the end of the Burned and Broken, you will feel however that the author has methodically worked through a substantial and credible case with real impact and in the process has established a series with much more potential.

There are two separate cases or investigations in Burned and Broken, but you will not be surprised to find that they will eventually become linked. In one case a young girl Donna Freeman is trying to understand why her friend Alicia died and why the Essex police force are doing nothing to further the investigation. The case would appear to be tied to the abuse of children in a care home, so there is clearly something bigger involved here, but it seems unlikely that the police are going to make any kind of breakthrough that will blow the whole thing open.

The second investigation relates to the death of a police detective, DI Sean Carragher. Under investigation at the time of his death for financial irregularities, Carragher has been torched alive in his car, and it's clear from his lifestyle and behaviour that he's also been mixed up in something bigger and more dangerous. It's not too long before you start to see where the connections between Donna and Sean lie, but the way that the two stories are brought together has a number of surprises, and it certainly builds up to a much more dramatic conclusion than the restrained pace of Hardie's writing might lead you to believe.

While it's true then that there is more to the case than is immediately apparent on the surface, the real strength of in the book lies in the establishment and detail of the two lead characters who will undoubtedly play a larger role in forthcoming books. Accordingly, Hardie holds back quite a bit for now, only hinting at various issues in their personal backgrounds. DS Frank Pearson's health, family and marriage difficulties seem like fairly standard issue, but there are intriguing aspects to them that suggest room for further development. DC Cat Russell's issues with being an educated female officer in a boys' club where advancement and success is more commonly achieved through networking than qualifications or results also takes a different angle on internal politics within the police force.

There's plenty of time for the background character detail to develop, but at the moment the two police detectives barely collaborate and only seem to have a minor impact on the investigation into the deaths of Alice Goode and Sam Carragher. Pearson's family connections become entangled into the fabric of the case to some extent, but there's no overly dramatic personal threats made against the two detectives or their families. Or at least not in the usual way. As the various points and connections are joined up however, it becomes impossible for Pearson and Russell (who worked as partner with Carragher) to not become personally involved in the proceedings.

The case unfolds at its own pace then, but it would be a mistake to think that it almost takes care of itself. The involvement of Pearson and Russell, their backgrounds, their attitudes and their own experiences, all contribute to shedding a little light on the details of the case and hold the key to bringing it to a resolution. There are no big American crime thriller twists and shoot-outs in Burned and Broken, rather it consciously plays the down the big revelations only to suggest more disturbing unresolved issues beneath the surface. That has an impact that feels much more real and relevant, the pursuit of seemingly petty personal drives and hidden motives here leading to unexpected consequences on level no one could imagine.

Burned and Broken doesn't follow the familiar crime and police procedural route then, but neither do Hardie's characters present the cliché of the troubled or maverick outsiders. The case here, with all the suggestion of underlying issues that lie outside their ability to fully grasp, make them painfully aware of their personal and professional limitations. There's much that Mark Hardie can do with this kind of material and it will be interesting to see just how those ideas and characters are expanded upon in future books.

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Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie is published by Sphere on 23 June 2016.

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