The Fragments, by Toni Jordan

Trigger warning for brief domestic violence.

Now that I’ve sat down to write a review of Toni Jordan’s The Fragments, I’m not sure what I should say. On the one hand, I devoured this literary mystery. On the other hand, the ending twisted in a way that made me reconsider all of the positive feelings I had for one of the plot lines and not in a good way. Normally, I have a strong no-spoilers policy*. With The Fragments, I think I might have to recommend this book with a whopping caveat about an ending that may or may not make the potential reader dislike the book.

In Brisbane in 1986, a young bookish woman attends an exhibit of the life of author Inga Karlson, who was tragically killed along with her editor when an arsonist set fire to the warehouse that held the only copies of her last novel. Only fragments remain of that book. Karlson’s first novel is frequently referenced by the characters as one of the greatest books of the twentieth century; our protagonist is even named for the main character. At this exhibit, Caddie has a chance encounter with a woman named Rachel. Rachel is a prickly woman, but Caddie is instantly hooked when Rachel quotes a line from Karlson’s last novel…one that does not appear in the recovered paper fragments.

While Caddie and a reluctant bookseller (who grows closer to Caddie over the course of the book) try to track down Rachel and maybe, finally, solve the mystery of who killed Karlson and her publisher, another plot takes us back to the United States in the mid-1930s. Rachel, a poor young woman from a violent home, escapes to New York and begins to build a new life for herself. She meets Inga Karlson while working as a waitress. Inga would have caught her eye anyway, even if the young author hadn’t turned out to be a bit of a kleptomaniac around the chocolate.

The two plots race along. We know from the beginning that Rachel is in danger the longer she stays with Inga. Caddie’s danger is less physical, but no less real. As she tries to find answers in library archives and interviews, she runs the risk of losing everything to an unscrupulous professor who wants to make another big, academic splash. I was totally hooked on both stories. I adored the characters, but it was the plot that really had me. Unlike a lot of other literary-themed mysteries, this one had real, believable stakes and a lively plot.

The ending, though. I’m not going to totally ruin The Fragments by saying what actually happened. I will say that the twist at the end was so abrupt that I flipped back and forth more than once to figure out if I’d missed something. I had not. When I realized what actually happened in those critical paragraphs, I had to immediately revise everything I knew about a major character. I flipped from sympathy and sadness at their fate to anger about their lies. In the past, I haven’t really had qualms about recommending books that were mostly good. The good usually outweighs the bad or unpleasant. I’m honestly not sure if that’s the case with The Fragments, which is a pity because I was really enjoying this novel.

So, for the first time that I can remember, I’m recommending a book not just with reservations, but with a spoiler warning.

*I’ll admit that part of the joy I have in not telling people how the book ends comes from annoying my pro-spoiler mother by never telling her how things are going to turn out when I recommend something to her.


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