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Broken River

by J. Robert Lennon

Crime and Mystery Thriller and Suspense Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Family Drama Book Club Recommendations Books of the Month eBooks of the Month Horror and supernatural fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of Broken River

January 2018 Book of the Month
A masterclass in suspense awaits the reader in this almost understated, yet powerfully intense and dark novel. A family needing a fresh start move into a house where an unsolved double murder occurred twelve years previously, their actions set in motion an alarming chain of events. The first chapter was sharply powerful, yet almost dispassionately described by an observer, allowing me to bear witness, to remain on the edge. The characters are fascinating, each nudging feelings and thoughts in different directions as the various points of view created small time warps, as deception altered the vivid picture in my mind. J. Robert Lennon sets small seemingly inconsequential moments spinning together to create a throbbing tension which breaks with dramatic energy. Broken River is an intelligent, entirely captivating read with a hint of the uncanny skating over the pages - highly recommended.

Liz Robinson

Broken River Synopsis

Following a string of affairs, Karl and Eleanor are giving their marriage one last shot: they're moving with their twelve-year-old daughter Irina from Brooklyn to a newly renovated, apparently charming old house near the upstate New York town of Broken River.

Before their arrival, the house stood empty for over a decade. The reason is no secret. Twelve years previously, a brutal double murder took place there, a young couple killed in front of their child. The crime was never solved, and most locals consider the house cursed. The family may have left the deceptions of their city life behind them, but all three are still lying to each other, and to themselves. Before long the family's duplicity will unleash forces none of them could possibly have anticipated, putting them in mortal danger.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781781257982
Publication date: 4th January 2018
Author: J. Robert Lennon
Publisher: Serpent's Tail an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
Format: Paperback
Primary Genre Crime and Mystery
Other Genres:
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Broken River Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Compelling, tightly written and with a well-crafted plot, this is a genre-defying book which will engage readers of literary fiction and thrillers alike.

‘Broken River’ is the story of a married couple, Karl and Eleanor, who move out of the city with their 12-year old daughter Irina, to rebuild their relationship and save their marriage. The house they move into was previously occupied by a similar couple, whose unsolved murder a decade earlier was witnessed by their young daughter.  

Irina is intellectually gifted, introspective and intense. Being home-schooled and left largely to her own devices, she develops a morbid obsession with the unsolved crime and what might have happened to the child.  Her belief that a young woman who arrives in the town to visit family is the daughter, now grown up, sets off an unfortunate chain of events that link the old crimes to the present day.  Eleanor also develops a similar obsession with the crime until her worries about her health and doubts about her husband’s fidelity take over.  Meanwhile, Karl, the father, is a self-obsessed artist determined to maintain the extra-marital affair that the move to Broken River was meant to sever.  

With a compelling and well-crafted writing style - not dissimilar to Steven King - the story draws the reader in to the mind and motivations of Karl, Eleanor and Irina.  Occasionally the viewpoint drifts to that of a character referred to as “the observer”, which in less skilful hands could have jarred, but actually helps the reader to visualize and immerse themselves into the plot. 

Ann Alderton

A chilling, somewhat intriguing book - is it a thriller, ghost story or drama? The reader is given the facts and then the story is played out under the watchful eye of the mysterious observer.

‘Broken River’ is quite unusual in that it doesn't fall into any particular genre.  It is a thriller, a drama, a ghost story, horror story, a psychology exercise.  

The beginning of the book is exceptionally chilling.  From the point of view of a mysterious Observer in the house, you hear the murder of its occupants outside and then witness the young girl, who survives, coming back into the house and everything that transpires at intervals over the years until the new owners move in.  They are a troubled family, which reflects the tragedy of ten years before.  

Viewpoints of all the participants in the drama are explored.  The unfaithful husband, the paranoid wife, the young girl obsessed with the past events of the house.  Quite unusually you meet the murderers of the previous occupants which adds a deadly element to the story.  The strangest part of all is the Observer who lives in the house - is he the guardian spirit of the house, a previous owner from way back or is he somehow the fate or destiny for the players in the story.  That is never properly explained.

The whole book is intriguing - the reader is never quite sure what to make of it all - to a certain extent you make your own mind up about whether the main characters deserved their eventual fate or not but there is the feeling that they are all characters in a drama being played out somewhere outside their control.  

All very interesting. 

Sarah Musk

Atmospheric and thought provoking, this story examines the damage people do to each other and the unforeseen consequences. A compelling read for a winter's night.

Moving house doesn't always mean leaving your old ways behind and you should really make sure you know where you are going.

Karl and Eleanor, with their daughter, Irina are making a move to try to save their family. Affairs and deceptions have brought their relationship to the brink of destruction and both partners have committed to trying to save it. At least, that's what they have told each other. Little do they know that forces they could not imagine are waiting to destroy them. A double murder has occurred in their new house many years before and it has left a presence. Their continuing deceptions only strengthen the force of that evil. 

Evelyn Barrett

I found myself being slowly but surely drawn into this, at times, bleak tale.

Billed as part horror, part psychological thriller, I was intrigued to find out what I thought of it. I found myself being slowly but surely drawn into this, at times, bleak tale. Having never read anything by J. Robert Lennon before, the thought of a new author and the blurb got the better of my curiosity and I dived in. 

The book starts with a couple and their daughter fleeing their home. Why is never fully explained. They are subsequently murdered and their daughter is found later by a neighbour and vanishes from the tale. The murder is never solved and the locals believe the house cursed. After years of desolation the house is inhabited again by Karl, Eleanor and their daughter Irina. Leaving New York presumably for a new start and this is where the real story begins. The story of the supposed curse: but also the story of their lives and others whom the trajectory of their lives bring them into contact with. It is a story of selfishness and cruelty. Karl is a selfish and immature person. Totally unsuited to be a father and unable to give up his philandering ways. Eleanor also seems trapped in a marriage of convenience and not of love. Though she seems to be trying to make it work. And Irina the daughter, tired of being the brunt of her parents arguments and the weapon they use against each other: retreats into her own world of the imagination and internet. There is also an eerie presence known as the Observer. Who or what it is is for each reader to make up their own mind. Thank to Serpents Tail and Lovereading for the ARC.

Alfred Nobile

It is beautifully written and I found myself wishing the inhabitants of ‘Broken River’ a chance to bathe in calm shallows sometimes.

This book is full of the ordinariness of life. It tells of the complexity of relationships, the randomness of our births and the outcomes our actions can have. 

We are introduced to the book by the all-seeing but distant Observer, who oversees without judgement as the humans drift haphazardly through life "waiting for the next thing to happen".  The adults here are hapless and lost, dead beats and people who see no real hope, whilst the children seem to self-parent and are curious, creative, mature people. We watch a series of events unfurl, many are random and trivial, but they all have impacts “the decisions we make, turn left or right in life” The characters are doing whatever they have to get through, even if it is immoral, but we do not judge them harshly, recognising the randomness of life and how things can happen to us for seemingly no reason. This book is not joyous to read but it feels real and we watch, as does The Observer, as these people bump and stumble on the rocky roads which are their lives.

Carina Barnett

This is so compelling that the plot weaves its way along almost without you noticing. But not quite. Lovers of quirky unusual books this is for you!

Twelve years ago a couple was murdered at their home. Now a new family is moving in. This is their story. It's a mysterious one as everybody seems to be keeping secrets from each other. The unusual writing style is intriguing, and the reader is dropped right into the mind of each character.

Rachel Aygin

An interesting read.

The house, is in a little town of Broken River in New York, an ordinary house but with a small difference, this is the house where over a decade ago a brutal murder took place and now a new family are about to move in - Karl, who is having an affair, his long suffering wife Eleanor and spoilt daughter, Irina.

Can houses or the bricks keep the feeling and emotions of the people who have lived there before?  In this case it would seem so, as the family start to live here things go from bad to worse.  Lives become tangled with the past and all of this is seen through "the observer" who is never seen, and we readers never get an explanation of.

I did struggle a little with this, and didn't really gel with the characters. An interesting read, but just not for me.

Angie Rhodes

An intriguing and oddly compelling dark novel, which does not conform to the expectations of what a thriller should be. Well worth a read.

‘Broken River’ starts off with a brutal murder of a mother and father. Their young daughter does not come to any harm. Their home is left empty for over a decade and the crime committed is left unsolved. The events are, however, witnessed by an ‘Observer’, a strange, omniscient entity, who is present throughout the novel. Many years after these events, Karl and Eleanor, together with their daughter Irina, move into the old house. Irina, becomes obsessed with the historical murders and the child who managed to get away.

The novel is an ambitious work, both compelling and oddly unsettling. Lennon creates an incredibly detailed picture of what takes places, with a whole series of digressions and an intricate unfolding of characters.  The reader does have to suspend belief quite a bit. The character of Irina is not altogether plausible in my opinion, taking into account her age. Moreover, I am unsure how successful the device of ‘Observer’. It feels too contrived and unreal at times. Nevertheless, the novel works both as a dark quasi thriller and as an examination of flawed characters and their relationships.

An intriguing and complex book.

Rachael Anderson

Mystery tale with lying family members. The plot is straightforward, the description of the family informative and the story that will linger after finishing the read.

A mystery thriller written with plenty of intricate detail. The level of gothic horror is low so does not detract from the book's theme - observing the family dynamic when the members deceive each other and themselves.

As a result of this the constant unanswered questions and delayed answers add to the heightened suspension of the story and does not detract the reader's attention but adds to it. Furthermore I was left interrogating the story for a long time after reading.

The most important character is observation which is the style of the book and is so important it is personalised by a capital O for observer. This observation style creates an important distance between the reader and author and story.

Alan Brown

I expected a gothic horror, and received a bog standard crime thriller.

This book starts out well as it outlines a horrific event that happened twelve years ago. Unfortunately, it did not continue at this pace and I was left feeling dissatisfied.

After reading the synopsis outlining a cursed house and a dysfunctional family, I could not wait to read this book. Part one was gripping as it recounted a horrific even that had occurred in the house twelve years previously. It was explained from the point of view of an 'observer' and I was intrigued who they were, and what part they would play in the upcoming events.

I continued reading, waiting for more curses or at least revelations but was ultimately, really disappointed. The characters were quite two dimensional and the story moved at a slow pace, without building any tension. I finished the book feeling quite dissatisfied.

Emma Barton

A very cleverly and quirkily written novel.

An unusual literary thriller.  As a family flee from their home, the mother and father are murdered in front of their child who manages to escape and survive, disappearing into the mists of time.  The house is left vacant for twelve years, going to rack and ruin giving it a cursed reputation, until a new family move in.  Unfortunately, instead of being a new start, the past comes back to haunt them.  

I usually like literary style mysteries but this one didn’t really do it for me.   I didn’t like the way it was written.  I struggled with it on the whole, I thought it was quite slow and drawn out.  It’s written in the present tense which doesn’t always gel with me, either.  Although I don’t normally have to like the characters to enjoy a book, the ones in Broken River were mostly unsympathetic and unappealing. There’s also an abstract sort of character known as ‘The Observer’ which floats around doing just that - observing.  I understood its point, like a fly on the wall, but found this a little odd and distracting.  The story is described as part gothic horror but I didn’t find it scary or creepy at all.

I think it’s a very cleverly and quirkily written novel.   It’s full of philosophical thoughts and psychology, so a little deep!  It’s not a bad book, quite original, but just not my cup of tea.

Vanessa Wild

A superb book that I couldn't put down.

A noirish, nightmare of a story about a family moving to a house that could be the salvation of all three members, or it could be their undoing. ‘Broken River’ is a very literate and elegant read.

Many thanks to Lovereading for this proof in turn for an honest review.

I had not read anything by this author before but he is now completely on my 'to look out for' list. 

'Broken River' starts with a horrific crime and the house in which it happened. The history of the house is followed to the point where the book's central family move in.

The history of the house attracts the young daughter whilst the parents will not talk about it or why they moved to Broken River or any of the issues which are threatening to tear their family apart.

Desperate for a new start and a chance to heal, moving to Broken River may be the worst thing this family has done in its efforts to heal.

On the surface the characters are essentially unlikeable. The reader wants to know what happened to the family at the start of the book, the murders that maybe weren't and what happened to the missing daughter.

The father buries himself in his art and the wife is so obsessed with status she seems brittle and cold.

What results from this is a noirish examination of the lengths families will go to to stay together, and also what drives them apart. 

Rachel Bridgeman

I enjoy the way characters were introduced and slowly their links to others was exposed.

A boring uninteresting book, very pedestrian for most of the novel. Also nothing really seems to happen.

A house lies empty for a decade after the parents of a little girl are murdered. Karl and Eleanor (with their daughter Irina) move in hoping to give their marriage a go after a string of affairs. 

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this book. The blurb on the back made it sound exciting and other reviews made me look forward to reading it. I just found it very pedestrian and as I made my way through the book nothing really seem to happen. There was a lot of story threads that never really get resolved.

I enjoy the way characters were introduced and slowly their links to others was exposed. But I just found it very boring and the payoff at the end of the novel seemed rather pointless given what had happened in the body of the novel.

Neil Beatie

A novel with promise but sadly did not reach its potential.

This novel had so much promise and immediately sucked me in.  The writing was good and the characters well drawn.  I particularly liked “the Observer” which lent a spooky atmosphere to the whole novel.  Then it just went wrong and lost the momentum leaving me feeling bereft.  By the end I had lost interest in the characters and what happened to them.  

Glynis Elliott

J. Robert Lennon Press Reviews

Compelling from the first page, and then smart, sophisticated, suspenseful and satisfying throughout -- Broken River is a first-class ride. -- Lee Child

J. Robert Lennon is a connoisseur of calamity, qualms and paradox, all of which are on profuse display in his crafty, seductive eighth novel, Broken River... Broken River is a remarkable performance, a magic trick that makes you laugh at its audacity. Lennon has written a realistic novel with vivid characters and flashes of humour and an evocative mood... when you close a novel as good as Broken River, something, not quite a ghost, may follow you. -- Terrence Rafferty * New York Times *

A cracker of a novel - sharp, dark and suspenseful -- Hephzibah Anderson * Mail on Sunday *

What prevents Broken River from being classified as simply a horror or crime story are Lennon's linguistic energy and dark humour ... it's a rare book that manages to bend genres so successfully - that thrills and frightens while evoking such insight into human failings and the lure of the past -- Zoe Apostolides * Financial Times *

Fizzing with line-by-line propulsion and wickedly plotted with slow-burn complexity, this is a knockout, unmissable performance from a writer at the very top of his game. * Observer *

Broken River is like a Coen brothers movie set in rural New England... Lennon has a lot of fun... and we do, too. * Sunday Times *

A writer with enough electricity to light up the country. -- Ann Patchett

Hypnotic and unsettling, Broken River weaves a dark, compelling spell -- Mick Herron, author of Real Tigers

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781781257982
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781781258002
Publication date: 01/06/2017
Format: Hardback

View All Editions

About J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon is the author of eight novels, including Familiar, Castle and Mailman, and two story collections, Pieces for the Left Hand and See You in Paradise. His fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, Granta, Harper's, Playboy, and the New Yorker. He lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches writing at Cornell University.

More About J. Robert Lennon

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