If you like your private eyes thoroughly hard boiled, don’t miss Broken, the well-crafted debut novel by indie author Matthew Storm. Remember my grousing about the frustrations of sifting for woman P.I. yarns on Amazon? This is one of those finds that make it worthwhile.
Storm’s private investigator, Nevada James, was once the youngest woman to become a homicide detective in the San Diego Police Department. She was liked and admired by her colleagues. Then a serial killer she was closing in on shattered her bones and forced her to watch as he killed two young girls and carved their faces into macabre masks.
After a long stint in a mental hospital, followed by dismissal from the force, Nevada has become a chronic blackout drunk. When we meet her, she awakens from her latest bender with vomit on her shirt and no idea what day it is. She’s been forced to awareness by incessant pounding at her front door.
It’s the opening overture by a notorious gangster who offers her money enough and a case compelling enough to her tortured psyche that she can’t decline. His estranged wife and their ten-year-old daughter have disappeared. He wants Nevada to find them.
As she struggles to strike a balance between staying sober enough to function while drinking enough to ward off the shakes, the reader watches two storylines unfold. One is the private eye working her way through a maze of rival drug dealers, infidelity and treachery inside the organization of the man who hired her. The other is an individual trying to struggle back up from the depths of alcoholism.
Plot, pacing and dialogue are crisp and proficient. Characters are rounded and well drawn. This holds particularly true for the P.I. at the center of it all, who even though we’ve seen alcoholic detectives before, emerges as more than a stereotype.
This is not a story for squeamish readers. Although its violence is not particularly graphic, there is some, along with a decent amount of strong language.
Is Nevada James someone you’d want for a best friend? Probably not, but you’ll find her compelling.
I’m hopeful, based on the novel’s ending, that Broken marks the start of a series. The author has promised an interview here, so maybe we’ll find out.
M. Ruth Myers is author of the Maggie Sullivan mysteries featuring a woman P.I. in the 1930s-40s.