Broadchurch by Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall

BroadchurchTitle: Broadchurch
Author: Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Pages: 448
Release Date: Sept 16, 2014
Source: Netgalley
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Location refers to Kindle version.

If you are a fan of David Tennant (and why wouldn’t you be) than odds are you have seen Broadchurch, which was shown here in the U.S. on BBC America. If you haven’t seen it, then you might have heard about it. If you haven’t, there is an American version of the show coming out in the fall; it is called Gracepoint. Mr. Tennant is in that as well (reprising his role, it appears). Olivia Colman, who in many ways was the more nuanced performer in the series, isn’t, sadly (though Anna Gunn is a wonderful actress).

Broadchurch is about two detectives as they struggle to find the murderer of a young boy in a small coastal community, that type of community where everyone knows of everyone, if not knows everyone. This book is a novelization of the television series, so if you haven’t seen the series and are planning to watch it or the U.S. version, the book has major spoilers. The butler did it type of spoilers – but don’t worry there isn’t a butler.

Ellie Miller returns from a vacation in Florida to discover that her promotion has been given to an outsider, a male outsider, Alec Hardy. If that isn’t enough of a problem, a boy’s body has been discovered on the beach. The boy, Danny, is a close family friend. In such a small town, this means that dirty secrets are brought to light as community distrust and infighting begin to take a toll.

What makes Broadchurch, show or novel, so good is its refusal to use clichéd types. It might at first glance look that way. Firstly, the relationship between Hardy and Miller is one that we seem to see in every blasted cop show today, but soon it transcends that. Secondly, no one comes out as a saint or sinner, but as simply people. It is this that makes Broadchurch far more compelling. Karen White, for instance, the reporter who has made it her mission to call Hardy to account for a mistake in his past, could at first come across as the ambitious star reporter who should be pistol whipped, but she is more than that. Miller could simply be the emotional cop, but she is more than that. Hardy could be the dick cop who is always right, but he is more than that. The only character that might be one dimension is the character of Beth, Danny’s mother. “An English rose” is how one reporter describes her, perhaps she is, but she is not perfect. She is simply good and far more complex than that description would let anyone to believe.

It is the normalcy of both the place and the people that make the story gut wrenching and compelling. You may not live in a community as small as Broadchurch, but if you are a member of a neighborhood many of the truths or problems of Broadchurch are also present in the small individual sections of big cities. Instead of the convoluted plot lines of some crime stories, the crime here isn’t so much shocking because of its victim, but because of its intimacy, because of the suspect pool. The reader may not know Miller, Beth, Ellie, Alec and the dozen or so other people in the novel, but the reader knows people like them. When Ellie wonders if it was the man whose name she doesn’t know but who she nods hello to everyday, it is something anyone can relate to.

The novelization keeps the basic plot but aids more details. The relationship between Karen and Olly works better in the novel than on the television screen due to the use of inner monologue. The writing it is good, containing lines like: “Maybe the small town mentality is sexually transmitted.” (Loc 2152). Despite the reader knowing the outcome, the book itself is gripping and near impossible to put down. This is unusual for a novelization, and Erin Kelley deserves full marks for it. Overall, the writing is smooth, though there are times when some dialogue feels very stilted, almost like an info dump. At this point, it should be noted that the edition I read was an uncorrected ARC, so perhaps this problem will be smoothed out by final publication.

That criticism aside, while the book is not as good as Ruth Rendell or P.D. James at their top form, it is far better than most novelizations.

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