Review: Breaker by Richard Thomas
Genre: Neo Noir, mystery, thriller
Broken souls, that is what Richard Thomas quickly is becoming an expert on. It is evident in his short stories, for instance the eerie Asking for Forgiveness or the somber Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave, that both have damaged people at the center. It was also a main theme in his previous release Disintegration, where the main character had witnessed tragedy and because of it had become an easy target for the lowlife of Chicago.
This follow up, another Windy City Dark Mystery, is similar; a journey into the dark recesses of shattered souls while at the same time showing the reader the bleak underbelly of The Second City: Chicago. Although this time Thomas treats the reader to the lives of two individuals instead of one.
First is Ray; a white beast of a man who spends his time as a fighter at an underground club. His pale skin and large frame makes people instantly suspicious of him as he walks the streets. One of his many gifts, as he himself puts it, is his temper, honed by a lifetime of abuse and he wished to pass that abuse on to other people. His scars run deep; a mysterious father, who vanishes after a while, a sexually abused sister and a murderous mother. As the story unfolds he realizes that his childhood, sinister as it was, may have been a lot worse than he imagined.
The second person is Natalie. She lives next door to Ray and sees him come home with fresh bruises and cuts. She is the target of neighborhood boys, has parents who constantly fight and has developed the ability to blend into the woodwork; a useful skill to have in the area in which she lives. Ray takes her under his wing to protect her from bullies and the mysterious white van that drives around the city causing children to disappear. They form a relationship reminiscent of the one between Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Léon (The Professional), although much sadder. Things take a turn once Ray comes to the conclusion that someone is after him and will do anything in their power to hurt him.
Breaker takes the Windy City Dark Mystery series to another level. The bleak outlook on life and humanity that was ever present in Disintegration is still present, but this time hope is sprinkled between the sentences. Ray is more sympathetic a character from the get go, a sensation that is only enhanced as more and more hints at his horrible past is revealed to him, as well as the reader. He is constantly at a disadvantage due to his size, pale skin and background, but instead of lashing out at a world where he doesn’t belong he channels it through fighting and helping the neighbor girl.
Richard Thomas shows that he is a master of neo noir fiction and that he understands the psyche of broken and damaged people. Breaker is proof of this; it is well written, well thought out, bleak yet hopeful and convincing in its innovative story.