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Publisher: Kensington Books
Publication Date: Jun 24 2014
My Rating: 5 Stars
CLOSE TO THE BROKEN HEARTED by Michael Hiebert was captivating, hooking me from the first page to the end. A suspense page-tuner, you will not be able to put down, keeping you guessing until the end.
These well-developed rich characters will pull you into their troubled world, dark past, and mysteries of this small southern town of Alvin, Alabama, extending to Columbus, Georgia. However, more importantly than the mystery---the family dynamics, and lovable characters, for a heartwarming and poignant story. I was definitely intrigued by the front cover, drawing you into the mystery behind the house, and the doors to the downstairs cellar.
Sylvia Carson (age 22) suffers from a traumatic past, as she witnessed the tragedy of her three year old baby brother, shot and killed in the family kitchen at home, by Preacher Eli, over a land dispute with her father--when she was only five years old. The novel flashes from past to present with a full background into the characters.
Shortly thereafter, her mom was found dead in their barn, and her father, Tom Carson, commits suicide, on the land as well. Why were three people in this family, killed on this southern farm—an ongoing mystery? (not great for re-sale value). The only remaining family member is Sylvia, and she is hanging by a thread with PTSD. She becomes orphaned, and later marries the high school football star, Orwin; until he is hurt and has no college football future-- He leaves Sylvia with raising of her baby, which is still nameless. This poor girl cannot get a break!
Next, meet the Teal family --Leah, a widow, single mother of two (Abe 12, and Carry 15) a detective in this small Alabama town of Alvin. Leah’s dad, now deceased happened to be the police officer working the Carson case (Sylvia’s family), years ago and the motivating force behind Leah’s joining the police force, to support her family.
Shortly after the book opens, the news of Preacher Eli’s release from prison, leaving Sylvia fearful of her life as well as her baby daughter. Now, strange things begin happening in and around Sylvia’ house in the woods, and she is constantly calling the police station, regarding these happenings. The local police do not take her claims seriously; however, Leah takes them quite seriously, and begins taking Sylvia under her wing, to offer protection as she begins to dig for answers.
Preacher Eli has done his time in prison and has moved back to Alvin. Why, and what is he after? Perhaps, unfinished land business? Is Sylvie a target and is she safe? Who is tormenting her, and trying to drive her out of her mind? There are secrets, and lies as tension and suspense builds, will Leah be able to get to Sylvia in time to save her. Will Sylvia be able to save her baby, when she was unable to save her little brother?
Leah sets off on an investigation of her own. However, one mistake- she takes her son Abe on a visit in the woods to Preacher Eli, to offer a warning. Abe was one of the most endearing characters---loved him! An inquisitive twelve-year- old boy (much smarter and older than his years), desperately wanting to know more about his father. His mom Leah, put his death aside and never talked about him, guarding her own heart. In doing so, Abe is always searching for answers about his father and family, keeping his dad’s photo close, as he was so young when he died.
When a mysterious woman follows Abe and his best friend, Dewey on their bikes, she informs him she is his dad’s sister and he has grandparents. He is delighted; however, the news was disturbing to his mom, as she never knew her husband had any family.
Abe thinks Eli is not to be trusted, and between this and his relentless curiosity about the dad he hardly knew, Abe's imagination is running in all directions. While Leah struggles with how much of the past to reveal to Abe, she's also concerned about Sylvie's mounting panic. Something in her gut tells her the girl might be a target after all.
Abe and his friend Dewey are always thinking of creative things to do in this small town. Readers will fall in love with them ----Abe is the smart one, yet untrusting of others. Dewey, his friend sees himself as an inventor—adventurous, these two remind you of classic boys in the south fighting desperately to escape and see the world. I enjoyed how Heibert cared about Abe, making the reader care about the simple and humorous life of a twelve year old in a southern town.
Between Leah’s job as detective, and her son’s Abe investigative tactics, there is much drama in this town-- Especially when taking on Sylvia and her issues. Since her husband’s death, Leah has kept her life and her husband a closed off topic and has never been able to discuss or share her grief with her family.
The relationship between Leah and her children, especially Abe was an integral part of the novel, more so with Abe than her teenage daughter, Carry. She and Abe have a special bond, as is with mothers and sons. (I have sons as well, so can relate). She is a hard working mother, involved all hours in police business, taking time away from her children, yet she is a good mother, with a big heart, yet independent –at work and home, earning the respect of others.
There are many broken hearts in the novel---A broken heart can happen when we lose a loved one such as a spouse or a child or even a beloved pet. Metaphorically, it is that emotional aching in your chest that happens when you are deeply disappointed or grieved over a life circumstance. I enjoyed the relation to religion, church, and spirituality. The Bible has many other verses that can encourage the brokenhearted as well. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18). We can be healed and delivered from a broken heart.
Having lived in the south my entire life, and Atlanta, prior to moving to south Florida, I enjoyed riding my bike weekly along the Silver Comet Trail (an old railroad converted to a bike trail, running from Atlanta, Georgia to Alabama). When the boys were riding their bikes to Preacher’s Elis home in the woods, this setting reminded me of my weekly 150 mile round trip through all sorts of farms, small towns, and forests – from the smell of the dirt, water streams, farms, and nature—so peaceful and invigorating, stopping along the way with a good read, while resting on a bench, and enjoying the experience. On those nights, returning home through the desolate woods, thru the dark, thunderstorms and pouring rain, could envision these two small boys playing the investigators in the mysterious woods.
In addition, was reminded of my time in Columbus, Georgia as an innkeeper for a large boutique bed and breakfast, cottages and café, and the people of the area in the Downtown historic area. Columbus is full of quaint shot gun cottages, and has a beautiful waterfront area with bike trail which extends to Ft. Benning. I also grew up in the south in rural NC, and spent my time being adventurous girl, reading, and dreaming of the day, I would escape this small town. Love books about the South!
CLOSE TO THE BROKEN HEARTED, a thought-provoking novel, which will capture your heart--one of loss and love, the power to forgive, and start anew. Michael Hiebert is quite the storyteller, and enjoyed his inspiration for his coming-of-age mystery, DREAM OF LITTLE ANGELS, the first book in the series) story of mom Leah Teal, a widowed police officer, as she investigates the disappearances of children in Alvin, Alabama—all told by her 11-year-old son, Abe. Can’t wait to read!!
A special thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.