Book Review: BROKEN GRACE by E.C. Diskin
Thomas & Mercer/Amazon Publishing
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
E.C. Diskin may do for the Lower Peninsula of Michigan what Daniel Woodrell did for the Missouri Ozarks. She is that good and that talented. Broken Grace is like a mashup of Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone the critically acclaimed Vince Gilligan crime drama Breaking Bad. This thriller has murder, drugs, amnesia, family secrets, infidelity, stupid criminals, menacing villains, gambling, junked cars, good, bad and a lot of gray.
The novel opens with Grace Abbott, age twenty, fleeing her home in rural Michigan on a cold Saturday morning, December 7, 2013. She’s jumped into her car, and needs to get to the police. As she drives to the station, a deer bolts across the road. Grace slams on the breaks, but hits the deer. Her car swerves off highway, and Grace slams her head hard before the car runs into a tree. She awakens eight days later in a hospital in Kalamazoo. Grace cannot remember anything due to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The doctor believes Grace’s memory will return if she rests and takes the heavy psychotropic medications he’s prescribed. Her older sister Lisa has been sitting vigil at Grace’s bed, and Grace goes with Lisa to their family home just outside Sawyer, Michigan so that she can rest and recover.
Grace is scarcely home for an hour before Detectives Bishop and Officer Hackett show up. They have come to question Grace about Michael Cahill, whom Lisa says was Grace’s boyfriend until about week ago. Grace inquires if Michael is in trouble. You could say that—Michael Cahill is dead. He was shot in bed in the apartment which he and Grace had shared. The police want Grace’s help figuring out what Michael was doing up until he died, but Grace is not able to recall anything. Lisa is very protective and stops the interview from going further.
Bishop is the senior investigator, and spent most of his career in Detroit. Justin Hackett is a local rookie, newly transferred from Indiana. Like many seasoned homicide detectives, Bishop believes the killer is probably the person closest to the victim, and that would be Grace. Justin has his own reasons for wanting the killer to be anyone but Grace.
Grace is in the most vulnerable position in every possible way. She is physically weak, suffering from terrible headaches and insomnia. She initially only gets flashes of memory of her life before the crash, and many of these are traumatizing. Grace becomes the center of the novel, but only truly comes into focus once she becomes her own detective. She cannot trust anyone, and so she must rely on herself to discover who she is, and who murdered Michael. Grace may seem rather weak at the start, but she is not to be underestimated.
As Bishop and Hackett work the case, they uncover unseemly details about Michael Cahill’s life. There were many people who wanted Michael dead, and for various reasons. He was a drug user who gambled, he cheated on Grace, and he hung out with men and women of ill repute. These details coalesce and bring an urgency to find out if Grace was the murderer—or if she is the next intended victim.
On its police procedural merits alone, the novel is excellent. The device of revealing the plot through Grace’s emerging memories, as well as through Bishop and Hackett’s investigation, is genius. E.C. Diskin has a sensitive grasp of human behavior, and great noir chops. Broken Grace is an exceptional thriller with hairpin plot turns and moral complexity.
Thank you to Thomas & Mercer for loaning me a digital copy of the book through NetGalley.