Award-winning TV news anchor Linda Hurtado Bond returns with her fourth novel featuring a journalist as the main protagonist. This time, it’s Marisol ‘Mari’ Alvarez, a disgraced Cuban-American crime reporter who must stay one step ahead of a serial killer while also uncovering the truth about her mother’s murder when she was a child.
Mari has returned to work after two weeks at home with no work or pay. The Florida TV station she works for has been sued with Mari put on probation after reporting on a Tampa city council member’s involvement in the death of several young girls. He was later acquitted due to a lack of evidence but his career and reputation suffered, leading to litigation.
Although Mari is itching to get back to reporting crime, her boss Mr Payton – aka El Jefe – doesn’t trust her one bit. Instead of crime, she is to report on a baby sloth. You can never go wrong with a feel-good story about a baby animal.
Mari and Orlando, her photographer and sidekick for the last five years, set out to cover the sloth. They happen to pick up an alert about a murder nearby and call it in to the station. El Jefe doesn’t bite. Another reporter and photographer have already been assigned the story. However, Mari can’t resist the allure of a potential scoop and has never let authority get in her way.
When they arrive at the crime scene, they discover two young girls and their murdered mother on the doorstep of their home. Mari feels sympathy for these two ‘broken girls’ because their situation is eerily similar to her own when her mother died years ago. Strangely, one of the victim’s eyes has been stabbed with a gold coin placed over it. A Barbie doll with one eye removed is arranged with the body. Is it some kind of message about what the victim has seen?
Mari gathers as much information as she can without drawing attention to herself. Before she can flee she runs into lead homicide detective Antonio Garcia who is with Hanks, a detective investigating cold cases. Neither is amused that she has defied police orders not to enter the scene or speak with the victim’s daughters or witnesses. Mari is too much of a bloodhound to let rules and police tape get in the way of a good story, especially if it involves her own unresolved trauma.
The victim is identified as Natasha Rodriguez, a deputy detective who drank on her day off and slept through the shooting of a six-year-old girl in the neighbourhood. The weapon used was her department issued firearm. More shockingly, the perpetrator was her son who went to prison for it. Rodriguez only received a slap on the wrist for her negligence. Now this.
Mari is convinced that the murder was a revenge killing. She has seen Sofia’s father lurking around the murder scene, and the girl’s brother has become a local gang leader. Following the death of his daughter, her father began using drugs, lost his job, his home and his marriage. That’s more than enough reason to hold a grudge against someone who got away with it.
Also at the scene was a suspicious looking man in a hoodie who tried to speak to Mari. Is he a demented stalker-fan or something worse? When more murders occur, Hoodie Guy appears again. The killer leaves one or two calling cards as well as messages at each scene. It looks like they have a serial killer on the their hands, which may eliminate the revenge motive, but is the killer vying for Mari’s attention?
Meanwhile, Mari’s own motivation is the unresolved murder of her mother and these murders appear to be connected to it. Using clues left at the murder scenes and inside information from Forensics Freddy, her source at the medical examiner, she tries to figure out the killer’s motive and identity.
What stands out the most in All the Broken Girls is Mari’s personality as the lead protagonist. She is guided by her gut and heart, and isn’t afraid of confrontation. Despite her pitbull demeanour she needs her azabache bracelet, which is blessed to protect her from evil and was given to her by her grandmother. Mari’s mother did not approve of Abuela Bonita’s Santeria practise and thought it was akin to witchcraft, but it is an important part of Mari’s life. Fortunately, Detective Garcia, for whom she has developed a soft spot, is also a spiritual person.
Linda Hurtado Bond’s journalistic experience shines through in how she describes the scenes and in her writing style. Sentences are brief and to the point, never longwinded or overly elaborate. It complements the genre and makes for easy reading. Even if the pace is occasionally slow due to the odd repetition, the fleshed out characters, sound plot and interesting cultural details more than compensate. This is a solid crime novel with Cuban flavour.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars