For a quick fix of mystery, readers can turn to Breakaway by Valentine Cardinale. A simple missing person’s case by design and at its start, the investigative piece of the novel gently weaves itself into a tale bigger than could have been anticipated from the start.
Our main protagonist is Father Bianchi, or Richie as he’s called, whose main personal conflict throughout the novel is to decide whether or not to leave the priesthood and take his life in a different direction. Shortly after moving to New Jersey while on a leave of absence, he meets his curious young neighbor, Dana, to whom he almost immediately takes a liking. Dana is the sixteen-year-old hockey star of an all-boys team who, initially, seems to have a number of problems at home, which makes her intriguing to Richie. She becomes even more so when her father, Eddie, suddenly goes missing. Bianchi then finds himself in the throes of the investigation along with expert detective Laszlo, trying to piece together the puzzle of where Dana’s father might be and why he has been abducted. All the while, Dana’s focus is split between the important upcoming regional hockey tournament that could help solidify her future and worrying about her father.
Breakaway has multiple threads of plot, which produced a novel that was easy to read and easy to follow, with a simple linear progression, albeit sometimes at the expense of cohesion. It’s at different times a mystery novel, a political intrigue story, and a sports story about an underdog hockey team looking for its first big win. So, while the various pockets of conflict were present, unfortunately they weren’t explored as much as I would have liked. The most developed character was Richie, who was developed through the conversations and thoughts he had while debating between staying in the priesthood or getting married. Comparatively, there are mostly surface details about everyone else. With Dana’s family, we know there was some dysfunction with her divorced parents, and we were told Dana fought with her father often, but it is never really said why, or about what. And outside of where the reader is told they quarrel a lot, we do not really glimpse into that aspect of their relationship, nor Dana’s mother’s history with alcohol, which is also glossed over.
Still, the novel was gentle, and it held my attention all the way through, and the pacing of the story was well written. The alternating chapters between the investigation and Dana’s hockey games may have felt like two separate books in one, but it did give the Eddie Dvorak case a nice tempo. I think the author could have pushed a bit further to really add some depth to the mystery, but then it may not have been the same relaxed experience that it was. There is a likable, unlikely hero in Richie as well as in Dana that will leave readers rooting for the entire cast of characters.
Outskirts Press, Inc.