Review

Half Broken Things

by Morag Joss



What desperate lengths would you go to for love --- especially if
you've been forever deprived of it? This provocative question ---
and its potentially disturbing ramifications --- is the explosive
kindling that ignites a slow-burning fire engulfing the three
bereft souls in HALF BROKEN THINGS. In this dark psychological
thriller, awarded a prestigious Silver Dagger Award by the Crime
Writers' Association, Scottish author Morag Joss explores the
bottomless depths of human loneliness when the lives of three
incongruous misfits collide in the British countryside.

On the surface, Jean, Michael and Steph appear to share little in
common other than marginalized lives and childhoods marked by
abandonment, abuse and disillusionment. Sixty-four-year-old
housesitter Jean has forged a meager and solitary existence out of
watching over the beloved possessions of others during their
absences. Meanwhile, friendless and penniless loner Michael is
reduced to stealing religious artifacts from churches in order to
subsist on canned soup in a dingy, freezing apartment.

In a fated encounter, he crosses paths with the pregnant and
jobless young Steph at the exact moment her lifelong inertia
suddenly gives way to an impulsive decision to flee her abusive
boyfriend. Short on options, she foists herself on the nearest
person at hand, who happens to be Michael. Preoccupied with his own
dire circumstances, he reluctantly acquiesces into letting her
settle into his apartment and eventually into his heart.

Meanwhile, Jean faces the specter of mandatory retirement after her
current eight-month contract ends housesitting the stately Walden
Manor. The bleak prospect of being put out to pasture weakens her
grip on reality and she indulgently assumes proxy ownership of the
house, taking inappropriate liberties with its possessions. But
even this misguided attempt to achieve a sense of belonging is not
enough to stave off her emptiness, so she invents a son whom she'd
given up for adoption and places an advertisement seeking to find
him.

When Michael, given up for adoption by a mother he never knew,
chances upon the ad, the wheels of fate are set again in motion.
Though he realizes immediately upon meeting Jean that she cannot be
his mother, the desperation of both supercedes reality and this
implicit acknowledgment forms the basis for their surrogate family.
Walden Manor draws Michael and Steph in with welcoming and
bountiful arms, providing much-needed sustenance and a respite from
their hand-to-mouth financial struggles. Insulated from the
pressures of the outside world, the incongruous new family creates
an idyllic-seeming existence until reality slowly and inexorably
intercedes.

The gradual unraveling of their elaborately concocted fantasy world
is accelerated by the unexpected appearance of someone from
Michael's past and the impending return of the rightful owners of
Walden Manor. These encroaching threats set in motion a dramatic
and irrevocable chain of events that hurtles the novel toward its
final shocking crescendo.

The carefully calibrated manner in which the author allows events
to unfold creates an ominous and pervasive tension as she descends
us into greater and greater depths of suspense and disbelief with
each turn of the page. Equally as skillful, Joss manages to make
each increasingly appalling occurrence appear frighteningly
justifiable given the circumstances. Just as she crafts a narrative
that both defies belief yet seems completely plausible, she uses
that same gifted sleight of hand on her characters, who
simultaneously repel us by their desperate actions while also
inspiring empathy and even likeability.

While Morag Joss has written three previously well-received books
in her Sara Selkirk mystery series, HALF BROKEN THINGS is her first
stand-alone effort and it firmly cements her reputation as a master
of psychological suspense on par with Minette Walters and Ruth
Rendell. Her ability to penetrate deep into the hearts, minds and
motivations of her characters enables her to portray the doomed
inevitability of their half-broken lives to powerful and haunting
effect.

Reviewed by Joni Rendon on January 22, 2011

Half Broken Things
by Morag Joss

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Delta
  • ISBN-10: 0440242444
  • ISBN-13: 9780440242444