Broken Promise: Book One of the Promise Falls Trilogy
Time flies. It seems like it was only a year ago that Linwood Barclay had published a few novels, solid stories set in small town America that fit nicely into the domestic thriller sub-genre. Each new book that he has published has consistently fulfilled and exceeded the promise of his previous one, with many of them set in a mythical but true-to-life town in New York named Promise Falls.
With BROKEN PROMISE, his 14th work of fiction, Barclay begins to bring together characters introduced in past titles while advancing and updating their storylines. While doing so, he is extremely considerate of readers who are new to his work or who have dipped into the Promise Falls canon only intermittently. While an intimate knowledge of what has gone before will enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the book, such is not necessary to follow what’s going on. The result is one of Barclay’s most satisfying efforts to date.
"...one of Barclay’s most satisfying efforts to date.... BROKEN PROMISE is a big book, though not a long one. Barclay’s writing style, always extremely readable, makes the pages fly by."
BROKEN PROMISE marks the return of David Harwood (last seen in 2010’s NEVER LOOK AWAY) to Promise Falls. Widowed and with an eight-year-old son, David has left his employment as a Boston newspaper reporter to return to his hometown and to his previous employer, The Promise Falls Standard. Circumstances conspire to make it a very fateful decision. He has barely squared his desk blotter when he finds himself unemployed and living with his parents in his childhood home. There is a weary sense of decline and decay that hangs over David’s first person account --- from his son Ethan’s unhappiness and his own feelings of failure to his parents’ demonstrable decline in their faculties.
Things become much worse, though, when, at the behest of his mother, David does a wellness check on his cousin, Marla. David is not the only member of his family to experience tragedy. Marla lost her only child during childbirth 10 months previously, and it has unsettled her badly. So when David arrives at Marla’s home, he is shocked to find her with a 10-month-old baby. Marla’s story as to how she came to have the child --- left at her home by a woman dressed in white --- doesn’t quite pass David’s truth detector. He engages his investigative reporter’s skill set to uncover the true mother’s identity, but when he discovers her dead body at her home, things look quite bad for Marla.
However, the problems and tragedy extend well beyond the walls of the Harwood house. Businesses that have been Promise Falls landmarks, such as the amusement park and drive-in theater, are falling by the wayside, and, as seen through the eyes of the myriad assortment of characters who pepper the book’s pages, the center of the town --- its essence --- is beginning to break apart. Some female students at a local college have been the subject of attacks, and someone has killed and hung a large group of squirrels on display in one of the local parks. It seems as if the town is sure to collapse upon itself either from corruption or decay, or a combination of the two.
Of course, David is primarily concerned with saving his cousin, who may or may not be a murderer. But there are other issues at stake in Promise Falls that play out over the course of the book and threaten the stability that’s left of the town right up to the very last page...and beyond.
BROKEN PROMISE is a big book, though not a long one. Barclay’s writing style, always extremely readable, makes the pages fly by. And while the primary issue regarding Marla is resolved, the novel has a definite cliffhanger ending, which will be taken up in FAR FROM TRUE, Barclay’s next work. For those who can’t wait, an excerpt is included at the close of BROKEN PROMISE. From the looks of it, your patience will be very much rewarded.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 28, 2015