Title: Shadow of a Broken Man: a Mongo Mystery
Author: George C. Chesbro
Format: Paperback edition, Dell Books
Over the years, there have been books, and especially series that i have picked up time and again when looking for something to read that I knew then I should have just taken and started. But, just as I’d decide to do so, something that I was already familiar with would catch my eye and new stories told by a character fresh to me would be put back on the shelf and have to wait. This was exactly the case with George C. Chesbro’s Mongo mystery series. One of those that I’ve seen on bookshelves or had recommended to me time after time, but I just never started. Well, that’s been rectified.
And I’m very glad it has, indeed.
Shadow of a Broken Man is the first novel in a series introducing the world to Dr. Robert Frederickson, a criminologist who also happens to be a private investigator. Frederickson is better known to the world at large and those close to him as Mongo The Magnificent, due to having had quite a career as a circus performer. Along with being a criminologist and PI and even having a black belt, Mongo is a dwarf and enjoyed a pretty solid career as a performer. But, now, having moved on to other things, Mongo is brought into a case concerning an architect thought long dead. When a building is constructed using techniques that this supposed deceased builder could only do, it appears suspicious to another architect, who asks Mongo to look into it. As he discovers a possible reason this could have been possible, that someone might have had a glimpse at plans to allow them to mimic the dead architect’s skill, the decidedly different detective unfurls even more of a mystery. One that indicates that death may not be final. And one that involves shady government dealings, ESP, and everyone involved not being what they first seem to be.
There quite literally is nothing negative to say about The Shadow of a Broken Man. Chesbro quite honestly creates a world so fully realized that a reader can feel the hard asphalt beneath his or her feet and can stand in the shadows cast by Manhattan’s building. Combine that with the characterization magic that Chesbro works, imbuing everyone who even graces the page with a certain reality that makes them stick to the reader, and you’ve got a fantastic start to a series.
Mongo has everything a hard boiled detective needs, plus a few new polished facets, or at least new when he debuted in 1977. He has an edge, a haunted past, and a retinue of skills of all sorts that he puts into excellent use, whether he’s coming up against a common thug or a scary man in black from the ‘government’. He is not only a skilled expert in his fields, but he’s just broken enough, just rough around the edges enough to be extremely relatable for readers and to be an enjoyable character study all his own.
Another gold star for this book is the relationship that Mongo has with his police detective brother, Garth. Although they do not seem to act as partners in all but name, they also aren’t at each other’s throats. There is, and here’s this word again, but it applies, a reality to their interaction, an honest to goodness feeling that these two are brothers with all the complications that involves. This relationship is well done and adds a whole lot of gravity to the tale, especially in a scene at the book’s end.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Chesbro also skillfully takes this mystery out of the hard concrete and steel of ‘normal’ and toys with some rather extraordinary, maybe even paranormal aspects. Not so much that it nosedives into an occult mystery, but just enough to add a level of intrigue and something extra to what is already a solid mystery. And, the kicker is, the addition makes this book stand out even more.
Five out five pages is definitely what The Shadow of a Broken Man is worth, and that’s only because the scale only goes that high. Characterization, plot, and taking chances are all dead on in this book and there’s just the right amount of each.
As for my own personal scale, a definite fully loaded gun, six out of six bullets. The first book in a series is supposed to make a reader want there to be a second and to come back for it and the next few after it. This does that and so much more in spades.