Jay Porter, the protagonist of the Joe Clifford’s latest book “Broken Ground” (Oceanview Publishing), is trying to get past some issues that would have buried a lesser man, but Porter isn’t safe, far from it. Porter has lost much over the last few years: his brother, his wife, his best friend, and his boss/mentor. At the beginning of “Broken Ground”, we see Porter getting his life back together. His ex-wife and son have moved closer to Porter’s town and even though his boss/mentor has moved away and sold the estate clearing business off to a competitor, Porter has started his own business. It’s not doing exceptionally well but it is moving in the right direction.
Porter has a couple of hot buttons that get him going, buttons that people know how to push. He still might live in an apartment above a gas station, drive a truck without heat in the New Hampshire winter, but he’s also going to AA. He’s given up beer but not his meds for his periodic crippling anxiety. It’s at an AA meeting where he meets Amy Lupus who tries to hire Porter to find her missing sister, a college student last seen at a drug rehabilitation center owned by the Lombardi family. Porter isn’t a licensed investigator but Lupus knows about Porter has a soft spot for helping young people in trouble and a hatred for the Lombardis.
“Broken Ground” is an atypical P.I. novel. As the fourth book of the Jay Porter series, we have a good idea who the guilty parties are and we might even think we know where this is all headed, however, that’s all to be decided in the fifth and possibly last Porter novel. What drives “Broken Ground” is Porter himself; his weariness, his angst, and his crisis of faith in himself are what plague him. There’s no yelling at Porter to grab himself up by his bootstraps. Porter’s despair is real and expertly fleshed out by Clifford. What struck me with “Broken Ground” is that it may be a difficult read due to Porter’s pain, but Clifford’s writing is so damn good that it makes “Broken Ground” a pleasure to read. If you’re expecting a standard P.I. novel, this isn’t it. Instead Clifford’s “Broken Ground” is a thoughtful book of a man trying to find his place in the world.