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Marilyn Stasio...[T]he premise of this psychothriller by the pseudonymous Ethan Black is perversely clever.
—New York Times Book Review
The three members of the Broken Hearts Club meet every week in the back room of a hole-in-the-wall tavern in New York City. There's the banker, a free spirit with a brittle heart; the literary agent, quick to anger and easy to sway; and the mechanic, a fragile soul with hands like a jackhammer. Heading the group is the psychologist who brought them together, a seemingly innocuous man with a haunting secret all his own. Together they discuss the lingering sting of rejection and the agonies of love. They share intimate details of their most shocking thoughts and forbidden desires. And they wonder about the ever-mysterious fifth man who wields a power over the group they have yet to understand, despite the fact that he's never come to one of the meetings.
Unable to mend the pieces of their shattered hearts, the men's bitterness escalates to rage, leaving them with a growing thirst for vengeance. Their anger spirals out of control in a malignant cyclone of madness until one of the members finally decides to put an end to his pain by exacting the ultimate revenge: cold-blooded murder.
The murder is so heinous, so bloodcurdling, it makes hardened homicide detectives who think they've seen it all lose both their composure and their breakfast. Heading the investigation is Detective Conrad Voort, descended from 200 years worth of distinguished and respected Voort policemen. Anxious to carry on with his family's proud heritage, Voort moves quickly to catch the killer, only to learn that this is no ordinary murderer, but rather one who kills with calculating madness and cold efficiency. Despite the savagery and apparent heat of the crime, the only clue the detective finds is the letters BHC carved into a wooden table in the victim's apartment. The case takes an even more puzzling turn when a second murder occurs and the same three letters are found at the scene. Yet the killer's MO is wildly different and the trail of clues is as long as the Voort family history.
By the time the third victim is found, Voort is suffering from his own broken heart. When he realizes his ex-girlfriend is the killer's next target, Voort is determined to put an end to the murders -- murders that appear to have been committed by one man, or many men, none of whom seem to really exist. Frightened and anguished, Voort grows desperate, and takes actions that threaten his sanity, his career, and the woman he loves. With life and love both hanging in the balance, Voort finds himself in a race to the death, face-to-face with an evil so dark and malicious it will leave him changed forever.
Novels featuring serial murders are a dime a dozen, but never has there been one this cunningly twisted. Black steers his readers down a road potholed with sizzling sex, frightening depravity, and surprising plot twists. By plumbing the dark depths of the base emotions we all share, Black reveals with horrifying clarity the thin line between common man and crazed killer. From the opening shadows of a backroom meeting to the wide-open spaces of its chilling climax, The Broken Hearts Club will keep you riveted and shocked, fascinated and appalled. But do yourself a favor before you settle in to read: Check and make sure all the doors and windows are locked. And you might want to think twice about the next heart you break.
Even though the forlorn lovers know that they're supposed to take rejection like real men, they weep and wail as they pour out their woeful tales to psychologist Ian Bainbridge. "I love her. I want her to die," sobs the banker, then goes off into the night to settle Niana's intimacy issues once and for all. After he confesses what he's done to Dr. Bainbridge, the psychologist wishes he could turn him in, but when Tillman threatens to implicate him professionally, he backs down and watches in horror as Tillman persuades the literary agent to accept his help in resolving his own romantic problems. By the time Greta Berger is introduced, things aren't looking too good for her. Meantime, NYPD detective Conrad Voort has broken up with his own lover, TV network producer Camilla Ryan, who's flown into the arms of Ian Bainbridge. Voort seems too sunk in his own grief to be the world's sharpest sleuth, but even he eventually realizes that there's an unhealthy bond among the fourmembers of the Broken Hearts Club-a bond that makes for the one and only surprise in this overslung, underplotted debut. More sex than the Kama Sutra, fewer thrills than the Gospel according to Mark.
The Banker reaches for his beer, and drains the schooner as a knock comes at the door.
The men hear a waitress's voice, trying for gaiety, imparting only disinterest. "You okay in there? Want anything else?"
"Everything's dandy!" the Banker replies in his business voice, jaunty, happy, the devil-may-care guy. "Is that my favorite waitress out there? Is that Carrie?"
"It sure is."
"You cute thing," the Banker calls. "If I wasn't involved with a girlfriend, I'd go for you in a minute!"
"Oh you," the voice says, trying to be playful, which is better for tips, conveying only that sense of supreme boredom found in New York late at night, among the lonely. The footsteps go away.
The Banker looks around the table.
The effort at being civil has cost him. His voice sinks, grows tight with anguish. "I don't want you to think it was only sex. The sex was great, unprecedented. God, when I came with her ... But it was more than sex. It was the way she made my apartment richer, adding flowers, oranges in the bowl, a painting, a different kind of Australian wine. It was the way she took me to readings. It was the quiet stuff, sitting on the beach in East Hampton. Gentlemen, I even liked shopping with her. It was looking at her back rising and falling, in bed, at night. Hearing her breathing. She even snored and I liked it. It was incredible. It lasted three unbelievable months, and it ended horribly."
"How?" says the Mechanic, finishing his steak. "And by the way, you ain't gonna eat yours, can I have it?"
"You'll get a heart attack, with all the meat you eat," the Psychologist observes.
"I don't have a heart anymore," the Mechanic says. "Greta broke it. How much more broken can it get?"
Guys aren't supposed to talk like this, the members of the Broken Hearts Club know. Guys are supposed to be stoic. To not cry. All their lives they've heard the slogans, watched the breast-beating. Love 'em and leave 'em. If it's not one girl, it's another. All their lives they've watched tough guys weathering breakups, leaving beautiful wives or girlfriends in movies, to fight wars, to join cattle drives, to train for submarine duty, to live alone in some cave. Real Men leave women without worrying about it. Real men are tough.
To the Broken Hearts Club, the walking wounded, these movie guys are as alien as a Martian. Guys, their fathers and mothers and buddies have told them, get over the pain. Move past it.
Dr. Bainbridge calls the men, in his articles, the Banker, the Mechanic, the Agent, and the Reluctant Patient, who still has not shown up. He says, "It's 10:45. Fifteen minutes and we have to leave."
"I'll finish fast, gentlemen," the Banker says. "My affair lasted three incredible months, and then one Sunday we were in East Hampton, at my house. We were listening to a Bach tape. It was morning. We were eating blueberry pancakes, and out of the blue," the Banker chokes up, "she says, 'I think we have to slow down a little.'"
The Mechanic groans.
"And I say, 'What do you mean, slow down?'"
"And she says, 'Well, I think you're getting a little too carried away about things. I need to go slower. It's this intimacy issue I have, I get nervous if I get close to someone too fast. It's not you, believe me. It's me.'"
"I hate women," the Mechanic says.
"You can't trust them," the Literary Agent says.
"I go crazy. 'Intimacy,' I say. 'Intimacy? What the hell have we been doing for three months if it isn't intimacy? And what do you mean, get close with "someone?" I'm not "someone." I'm me. What are you saying? What did I do? Tell me what I did and I'll stop it, I'll get better, I'll be a better person. Did I do something wrong?'"
The Banker screams out, in the cold little room, "'What do you mean, go slower?'"
He's breathing hard now. His face is the color of the blood oozing from the half-eaten steak on the Literary Agent's plate. There's a spot of dribble on the left corner of his mouth. He is panicking as much now as he did back then.
"She says I'm overreacting. She says, 'Why don't we take a few days off.'"
"I'm sorry," Bainbridge says, in his most supportive tone. He gets up, moves to his right, puts his arms around the Banker.
The Banker starts sobbing. His shoulders heave up and down, wrinkling the gray wool shoulders of his British pin-striped suit.
"I can't stand it. I can't stand it. I can't stand it," he says.
The others wait for the storm to pass, and the waitress is at the door now, knocking. The Literary Agent yells back, "Five minutes, okay? Lay off!"
"Oh God, I love her. I want her to die," the Banker says.
"You don't mean that," the Literary Agent says.
"I know. I don't. Not really. But sometimes," the Banker says, trying not to sob again, "I can't help thinking about it. I never did anything bad to her. I was perfect for her. I loved her. I would do anything for her. I would kill for her. Niana," the Banker moans, sinking into his seat.
The waitress, at the door, calls out, "Sorry, but the card game starts at eleven-ten!"
"Fuck the card game!" the Literary Agent calls. "We'll leave you a big tip. Five minutes!"
"You can't stay longer every week!"
"Yeah, yeah, in a minute, okay?"
This time the footsteps are quick and angry, going away. The Literary Agent takes a fifty-dollar bill and leaves it on the table, for a tip. Bainbridge always pays for dinner, and drinks, lots of drinks. The Banker says, "Didn't you ever think, at all, about killing them? All of them. The ones who did this to us?"
"You must have."
"I dreamt about it once," the Literary Agent says. "I woke up feeling terrible."
"Tell us next week. Now we have to go or they won't let us come back, big tip or not," says the Mechanic.
The men calm down. The Banker's story has touched all of them. They open the door. They do not speak as they make their way down the cramped, dark aisle of Mackey's Steak & Ale, past the men who turn to look, on stools. They've heard the yelling in back. Past Mackey, who stands behind the bar in a white apron, cleaning beer glasses. Past the young couples who come here after the theater, to eat hamburgers, to sit at the tables with their red and white tablecloths, and hold hands, and tell each other that they're in love, and marvel at their luck to find the one person in the world perfect for them.
"See you next Thursday!" Mackey calls out.
Another group of men, prosperous-looking, young, cigar-smoking dentists, bull their way toward the back room. Mackey takes a cut of the poker game every Thursday. They'll be in there until four.
Outside, it is snowing. Mackey's place lies across the West Side Highway from the Hudson River. The flakes are thick and there's a coating on the ground that makes the men's socks wet. The headlights of sporadic cabs barely penetrate the storm. A stiff wind clears a view momentarily for them, and they can see the black river, and the ghostlike glow from New Jersey across it, and then the curtain closes up again, and there's only the swoosh of tires, and the hiss of wind working its way around buildings, and a drone of an airplane too high up for them to see, taking off for Europe, or coming home.
The Mechanic and the Literary Agent leave quickly. Dr. Bainbridge lingers, asks the Banker if he is all right. He seems worse than usual tonight.
"I got put on probation, at work."
"I'm so sorry."
"The bank's merging with another company. They're going to have to trim the staff. I'm under a little pressure, that's all. I'll be fine. I'll be fine."
And the Banker starts walking.
I don't want to go home, he thinks. If I go home, I won't sleep. If I go home, I'll turn on the television. I'll think about the way she used to cry out when we made love. Cry out in such happiness that she made me feel like the most powerful man in the world. Cry my name.
I'm not going home.
He decides to give in to a craving he saves for the worst, the absolute worst, nights. He decides to take the subway downtown and look up at her window. He has to be close to her. He won't do anything to her, won't contact her, he tells himself. He'll do what he always does. Come up her block quietly. Let his eyes rove up the red facade of her building, where she still lives. He'll hope the light is on in a window, and maybe that he'll see her silhouette. He'll pray, if he does see a silhouette, that it is her, alone, and not with a man.
The Banker walks faster, in the grip of his obsession. He heads east on Forty-fourth Street, through Hell's Kitchen, past the drugged-up prostitutes in doorways, in tight clothes, who call out, "Hey, want a date?" He used them in the beginning, when Niana left him. He bought them and let them take him to hotel rooms and wash his dick and slip condoms on and call him honey, darling, baby, sweetie. The same words Niana had once said.
But the sex had been hollow, and left him feeling dirty inside. The sex hadn't touched him at all, except for a moment. A brief explosion of release in the genital region. A lessening of pressure in his groin. And a ballooning of the loneliness as he crept away, hating himself, slinking home, slinking to work the next day.
"Hey, honey, want a date?"
The Banker reaches Sixth Avenue, descends into the earth and takes the F train downtown, toward the East Village. His heart is pounding so hard. His mouth is dry. It's the way he used to feel when he was going to meet her. Against all his knowledge that this love affair is over, he is experiencing a horrible, rising hope. That a miracle will happen. That somehow she'll sense his presence on the street and look out, come down, seek him out, feel his emanations. That the sense he had of connection, when he first saw her photograph, still exists.
He can't help it. The private pain is starting up again, in his chest, the hollowness, as the train pulls into the Second Avenue station. He gets out. His heart is beating so violently that he has to lean against the dirty tiles of the wall, to calm down.
"You all right, mister?"
"Thank you, yes."
He can't be seen like this. He has a position to maintain, a standard to uphold. He makes it up to the street. The storm is worse down here, the wind blowing like crazy, from the north, driving thick flakes lengthwise down Second Avenue. Faster than the cars. They drive into his face, stinging him, punishing him. They melt on his cheeks and mix with his tears.
It is impossible, he thinks, that she ever left me. It is inconceivable that something so good went bad so quickly. It has to be a mistake. It can't continue. God doesn't punish for no reason.
And then he thinks, if God's going to punish, I might as well do something to deserve the retribution I've been dealt.
His heart steadies somewhat as he rounds her corner. Even the junkies are inside tonight. The buildings look darker, closer together, and seem to lean in toward each other across the narrow street. The twenty-four-hour bodega is closed. The Korean grocery is open. He hides his head from a man washing flowers, even in a blizzard, and reaches the middle of the block. Only now does he dare let his eyes rise, to move across the buildings, three stories up. Dark window, lighted window, dark window, dark window.
Niana's window is lighted.
She has a sheer curtain.
Behind the curtain a lone silhouette moves.
You have to love me, the Banker thinks. You love me but you're afraid to admit it. You think of me too, don't you? How can something be so good between two people, and just stop? It's against nature. It's not right. You miss me, don't you? You're just too proud to call.
That's when the urge comes, stronger than it's ever been before. He fights it off, but when she moves away from the window, it grows so huge, he doesn't even realize he is moving until he reaches her steps.
I'll just stand here a moment and leave, he tells himself.
A moment later he thinks, I'll just try the door. It will be locked and that will be that. But the junkies have broken the lock again. They steal checks from the mailboxes. The Banker lets himself into the tiled foyer. A wave of nostalgia and pain comes, so acute that he backs against the wall and clutches his chest.
"I'll leave now," he says out loud, voice tinny and funny in the foyer.
I'll go home this instant, before I do something I regret.
Outside, the storm thickens. All over the city people who have companions turn toward them in beds, hugging, kissing, holding each other while the wind hisses outside. All over the city the lonely feel more lonely. The storm is as violent as a broken heart.
The Banker turns to leave, and as he does, remembers, with a vivid flash of pain, what happened at the office this afternoon. He sees himself sitting at his desk, by his window. He sees the skyline of Manhattan, the mighty buildings tall against the gray of an incoming storm. He hears someone clearing his throat, in his mind, and watches the senior vice president walk toward his desk, the man's usual friendliness blunted and awkward. The Banker remembers the mundane chitchat because the vice president was too embarrassed to get right to the point.
You seem distracted. Your work's not as splendid as usual. You spent so much time analyzing the Blake Company Loan application that we lost it. I know you'll snap out of it, but I have to tell you, we've been ordered to trim some staff.
Buck up. I know you'll get back to normal before we start, er, dismissing people.
The Banker's vision clears and once again he is in the cramped little foyer. He sees his gloved index finger resting lightly against a bell. He hasn't pressed it. It's amusing to think how little pressure, at this point, would resume contact.
I won't ring it, he thinks.
He rings the bell.
Posted September 27, 2007
This was the first Ethan Black book I've read and I will definitely read another one just because I found the Voort character (and his partner) very interesting. The story itself started out a bit slow for me but eventually kicked into gear. I figured out the storyline well before it was 'officially' revealed but still I would recommend it to others. (I also couldn't help trying to visualize how a director might make this into a movie...it could be quite a challenge.)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2001
Ethan Black¿s debut thriller, THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB, is the story of three men (the literary agent, the banker, and the mechanic) who get together with their psychologist every Thursday in the back room of a restaurant to have dinner and discuss the tragedy of their relationships with the opposite sex. The men are filled with pain, sadness, loneliness, and one-hell-of-a-lot of rage. In due course, the banker decides to try and mend the bridges between himself and the love of his life. His ex-girlfriend, however, would rather keep the bridges torn down. In a fit of blind rage, the banker teaches her a thing or two about rejection and broken hearts by hacking her to pieces. This sets an example for the other men in the club. I mean, why should the banker be having all of the fun! Against the wishes of the psychologist, the literary agent and the mechanic soon decide that it¿s time for them to visit their old flames and set things right in the ¿broken heart¿ department. Detective Conrad Voort¿the richest policeman in New York City¿is called in to track down these killers. At each of the murder sites, one clue has been left as to the identity of the three men: the initials BHC (Broken Hearts Club). While Detective Voort is trying to catch the killers, he enters a period of emotional turmoil when his beautiful girlfriend, Camilla, dumps him for no apparent reason. What neither he, nor his ex-girlfriend, are aware of is the fact that one of the men in the Broken Hearts Club now has his eye on her and is determined to have her heart one way or the other. THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB is a very quick read with several twists that propel the novel forward. I enjoyed the way Ethan Black structured the members of the club and the surprise about them that comes later in the book. I¿m not sure if it could actually happen in real life, but Mr. Black made it somewhat believable and definitely fun to read. I especially liked the character of Conrad Voort and was reminded a great deal of Stuart Woods¿ New York City policeman/lawyer, Stone Barrington. I hope Mr. Black will bring back Detective Voort in future novels. I have to admit that while reading the book, I couldn¿t help but wonder if Mr. Black had experienced a broken heart before the writing of this novel. I sensed a certain bond between the author and Detective Voort, not mention the members of the club. I think most men and women would like to get even with their ex-lovers. I'll call it human nature. I should also point out that there¿s a distinct possibility men will enjoy this book more so than women. I mean, after all, women are the source for most of the tragedy that befalls the male characters in this novel, and they may have a hard time finding a character to identify with. Anyway, I highly recommend THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB, and I look forward with avid anticipation to reading Ethan Black's newest novel, IRRESISTIBLE.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 29, 2000
I must admit that the story did take a wicked turn ,but not enough to make me want sing praise. Humerous anticdotes here and there, but I was able to put the book down (for over a month) before finishing it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2000
this was my first thriller ever and I wasn't disappointed but I wasn't thrilles about it either. The ending was a nice little surprise and the motive was a good one for those who have been there, butI would not recommend following doctors orders in this case!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2000
I read this book in 3 days. I could not put it down. Right from the beginning it goes into a racy story and it dosen't stop until the end. 'Voort' the detective, is an excellent character. The end will blow you away. I for one did not even have a clue to the ending until it is revealed in the book. A must read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2000
I thought this was a good book, with interesting characters. The history and lineage of Voort is particularly well conceived. However, I must disagree with the other reviewers in that I did not really find the plot surprising as it unraveled. I suspected about 1/3 through the book the 'secret' that was eventually revealed, and was certain by the time I was 2/3 through the book, but it is probably a great sign that it did not diminish my enjoyment of the story at all.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2000
Posted June 3, 2000
Posted May 2, 2000
It's rare to find a thriller that so perfectly mixes good plotting, and great characterization, but that's the case with 'The Broken Hearts Club.' Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, I was surprised. I want more from this author, and soon.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 29, 2008
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Posted July 24, 2009
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Posted August 23, 2009
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