Broken In Two
by Laura Baker, contemporary (1999)
St Martin's Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-97175-3


By the by, I enjoy this book not as a romance (the romance is really skimpy), but as a mystery. Indeed, anyone looking for a romance would be sorely tempted to throw this book across the wall. Changing one's frequency to get in tune with the correct wavelength - this book is a mystery, not a romance - can do wonders, however. This book is a solid mystery with fascinatingly flawed characters.

In fact, the characters border on being totally unlikeable, but that's the magic of this book - they make very interestingly unlikeable characters. FBI Agent Frank Reardon has un-PC things to say and think about the whole Navajo-Hopi feud and doesn't hesitate to do just that. The heroine Ella Honanie is so passive and reluctant to do anything except to wallow in denial that she can be irritating. But they are just perfect for this story. Contradictory? Perhaps.

Frank's wife was killed in Operation Red Earth, a square-off between the FBI and American Indian Rights Organization (AIRO), the latter nothing better than a terrorist group. As a result, everything American Indian makes Frank see red. But Frank has to move over to Northern Arizona to investigate the murder of an Indian. He suspects that the murder is over some squabbles over forged Indian art, and his xenophobic eye narrows upon the sight of Ella, the sister of the slain man.

Ella is half-Hopi, half-Navajo, and is caught in the Hopi-Navajo feud which she refuses to get involved in. She has to take care of her brother's daughter who wants to join AIRO and she definitely isn't a happy woman. When she meets Frank, sparks doesn't fly actually, instead they bumble around their way until they get really tangled up in FBI/AIRO politics. Then there's something about a prophecy saying Frank is going to be the one to stop the whole feud.

Two outcasts, one from her people, one from his department, both beautifully fascinating in their flaws and the dynamics of their interaction. Frank is a man so blinded by hatred that he almost loses all semblence of his humanity. No, he doesn't even redeem himself in the end, and he does come off somewhat dim at times, but he's real. He's the ugly devil inside everyone of us that we never want to acknowledge. Ella, likewise, is intriguing as a woman who has shouldered so many responsibilities that she has burned out and all she wants to do now is not to do anything. Sentiments I understand perfectly, really. Put these two together in a relationship, imbued with skilled prose, that never overwhelms me with self-pity or misery, and I have a great read.

Alright, the romance is tepid, cursory, and the love scene at the end is simply gratuitous, as if someone insisted it to be there just to justify the label Romance at the spine. But there are some great mystery, great characters, and a hero that reminds me of Denis Leary. Nice.

Rating: 85


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